March 6 – July 5, 2015
Venice, Palazzo Ducale – Doge’s Apartment
Extended until September 6, 2015
The poet and writer Guillaume Apollinaire, guru of the avant-garde, met Rousseau in 1907. They soon became friends and Apollinaire, now a champion of his art, introduced him to Pablo Picasso, who held a banquet in his honour in November 1908.
It took place in Picasso’s studio in the Bateau-Lavoir, a cluster of small buildings in the Montmartre district inhabited by artists, writers and intellectuals. The Spanish painter, who had already produced the masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon but was not yet the famous master of Cubism and modern art, gathered together some of the most significant figures on the Parisian scene at the time to pay honour to Rousseau.
In addition to Picasso, Apollinaire, Marie Laurencin and Max Weber, those present included the American collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein, Hélène d’Oettingen and artists like Max Jacob, Georges Braque and Maurice Utrillo. What started out almost as a prank to make fun of the Douanier turned into a genuine celebration of him as the artistic father of the whole new generation then taking shape.In a room decorated with flags, festoons and a large banner with the inscription Honneur à Rousseau, the guest of honour sat on a sort of throne beneath his Portrait of a Woman, painted in 1895 and picked up by Picasso in a junk shop ten years later.
While Braque played the harmonica, a succession of toasts were made in his honour by the poet Maurice Cremnitz, the writer André Salmon and others, ending with a long poem recited by Apollinaire. The banquet soon turned into a chaos of unbridled festivity and attracted a large crowd from the neighbourhood including painters, poets and tramps. In the general confusion, the Douanier took out his violin and played Clémence, the waltz he had composed and dedicated to his first wife. He too was in a tipsy, befuddled state by that time in the evening and it was on leaving the party that he turned to Picasso and made the famous remark, “We are the two greatest painters of the time, you in the Egyptian style and I in the modern.”