Called Le Douanier, Henri Rousseau was born on 21 May 1844 in Laval in the west of France.
Henri Rousseau is the son of a tinsmith from Laval (Mayenne). He attends high school but does not complete high school. His artistic predispositions quickly appeared as he obtained a drawing prize and a music prize in 1860, at the age of sixteen. When he became an employee of a solicitor in Angers, he committed a breach of trust that led to prosecution. He was then sentenced to one month in prison. He then joined the army and met soldiers who had participated in the French expedition to Mexico (1861-67). This gave rise to the legend that he himself participated in this expedition and then drew inspiration from the Mexican landscapes to create his jungles. In fact, Rousseau never left France.
He began painting as an amateur in the early 1870s and obtained a copyist's card from the Louvre Museum in 1884. A salon without a jury, the Salon des Indépendants, having been created in Paris, it was presented there by the pointillist painter Paul Signac (1863-1935). He exhibited for the first time at this exhibition in 1886 and continued to do so every year until his death. But having received no academic training, his work is not taken seriously.
At the beginning of the 20th century, his painting aroused the interest of the artistic avant-garde, which already had a passion for primitive (now early) arts.
The production of self-taught painters, the first and most famous of which was Henri Rousseau, is called naive art. Rousseau's paintings touch us with the same spontaneity as children's drawings: no linear perspective, no high-level technicality, but the expression of a brilliant artistic sensitivity immediately accessible to all. In this sense, Rousseau's art joins the early arts by avoiding the detour of artistic education. Sensitivity is enough.