Palazzo Ducale

Doge's Palace

HENRI ROUSSEAU. Archaic candour

Room 10

Archaic candour

March 6 – July 5, 2015
Venice, Palazzo Ducale – Doge’s Apartment


Extended until September 6, 2015



This room is devoted to female portraits and juxtaposes paintingsby Rousseau with various other works.

The first of the Douanier’s canvases is a large portrait of a woman painted in the same period as the one bought by Picasso, which we have just seen. Both works appear to have been painted from photographs and constitute rare examples in his oeuvre of standing, full-length portraits, a traditional genre that the artist evidently wished to address. The other is Young Girl in Pink, where the frontal figure stands out against a two-dimensional background between two goats, one white and the other black, to ensure chromatic balance.

Fuelled by the peculiarity of the Douanier’s painting, wholly extraneous to any conventional or avant-garde form, a whole series of legends soon grew up around his works, which are immediately and indelibly imprinted on the memory. In the same way, an entire legacy of ancient and contemporary, classical and popular images, which are essentially the visual archetypes of our figurative civilization, reverberates in Rousseau’s works.

It is thus possible to surmise that the physiognomies of some of his strongly characterized male and female figures were unconsciously prompted by memories of the papotier, a grotesque head of coloured wood carved by Jean Dubois 1590 as an ornament for the organ in the basilica of Notre Dame d’Avesnières, which he unquestionably sawin the cathedral of his home town Laval.

The eyes and jaws could be set in motion by the organist with a pedal. Rousseau also found archaism of a popular and slightly grotesque kind in the portrait of Madame Lecourt, a centenarian from the town of Ferté-sous-Jouarre in the Ile de France, presented by Albert-Louis Cordier at the Salon des Indépendants of 1897 in the room where Rousseau showed his Sleeping Gypsy.

Two final terms of particularly telling comparison are provided by works of the women painters Paula Modersohn-Becker, exemplifying the archaism pursued by the German avant-garde, and Frida Kahlo, with stark realismdeeply influenced by the popular tradition of painting, the primary source she drew upon in her search for an identity closely linked to her homeland Mexico.