March 6 – July 5, 2015
Venice, Palazzo Ducale – Doge’s Apartment
Extended until September 6, 2015
PORTRAITS AND SELF-PORTRAITS
Interesting light is shed on the question of who the painter Henri Rousseau really was by Myself, Portrait-Landscape, exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents in 1890, which immediately attained the status of an icon.
This self-portrait is the manifesto of his painting, encapsulating all the elements that characterize his style: almost hieratic frontality, accentuated two-dimensionality, bright colours, obsessive attention to detail, the utmost simplification of form, marked use of outline, an uninterrupted focus on all the planes of perspective, cold light with no areas of shadow and chiaroscuro, and finally, in accordance with a long tradition of popular painting, the disproportionate accentuation of forms, a technique serving to emphasize subjects or figures regarded as particularly important.
His painting was to remain practically unchanged from 1885 to 1910, thus making it very difficult in the absence of documents to date his works, which never yield to the temptation of new experiments or changes of course. Many of his contemporaries but also artists of later generations were to draw upon this style. Here we have other portraits by friends and fellow painters.
Louis Anquetin, closely associated with Toulouse-Lautrec, uses Rousseau’s shadowless two-dimensionality and deep blacks in his portrait of the actor Samary. Charles Filiger, an acquaintance made through the poet Alfred Jarry, a lesser-known member of the Nabis group, with whom Rousseau exhibited work in 1894, shares the Douanier’s emphasis as well as the mute expressiveness of his portrait’s wondering gaze.
Félix Vallotton, one of Rousseau’s earliest admirers, described the work he presented at the 7th Salon des Indépendants in 1891 as “the alpha and omega of painting”. The Intellectuals in the Café by Tullio Garbari, an Italian painter very close to Carlo Carrà, sheds light on the increasing popularity of the “Rousseau model”, initially made known in Italy by Ardengo Soffici, in the second half of the 1910s.
Many Italian artists managed to escaped from the impasse of Futurism precisely by taking the Douanier as the starting point in their quest for a new form of painting, which led through his archaism back to the fountainhead of the 14th-century Italian primitives.
Rousseau appears in his work to tap a line of modern art that flows through many centuries like an underground river, fed by the virginal simplicity and sober, unadorned style epitomized by the 16th-century Portrait of a Gentleman of the northern painter Jan Van Scorel, which opens the room in perfect contiguity with the Douanier’s work.