Palazzo Ducale

Doge's Palace

HENRI ROUSSEAU. Archaic candour

Rooms 4 and 5

Archaic candour

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


Extended until September 6, 2015



Room 4

Rousseau’s most celebrated works are those that show the virginnature of exotic, primordial forests inhabited by wild beasts, figments of the imagination of an artist who never actually set foot outside France.

These unseen, distant worlds were born out of his visits to the botanical gardens in Paris or the illustrations of popular publications such as the Album des bêtes sauvages exhibited in room 12, transformed into fantastic representations where primordial worlds and dreams took shape.

Among these works, The Snake Charmer, commissioned by the mother of the painter Robert Delaunay, his friend and admirer, is a sort of reversed version of the serpent tempting Eve. Here it is a Black woman with the eyes of a panther that charms the snake and enchants it with the magic of music, silhouetted in a timeless atmosphere where even the minutely detailed and luxuriant nature appears to be spellbound. This work was to be particularly admired by the Surrealist painters, whose fantastic atmospheres it heralds.

Incongruity and a dreamlike atmosphere again look forward to Surrealism in the enigmatic Merry Jesters, where monkeys and practically unidentifiable birds are combined with a bottle of milk and a large matchstick in the foreground. Greater dynamism is found in depictions of fierce animals such as In a Tropical Forest. Combat of a Tiger and a Buffalo and Horse Attacked by a Jaguar, where contemporary and past influences coexist.Two of the works exhibited here date from the last few months of the artist’s life in 1910.

In Tropical Forest with Monkeys the references to popular literature are evident in the snake almost concealed by red fronds and the human playfulness of the monkeys peeping through the foliage. The Waterfall, possibly left unfinished on the painter’s death, instead presents an idyllic scene with a deer and an antelope in the midst of lush equatorial vegetation.

Room 5

This room is devoted to explicit similarities and possible connections between Rousseau’s works and those of other artists.

The accentuated poetry of the Douanier’s A Corner of the Park at Bellevue is thus juxtaposed with the idyllic relationship between mankind and nature portrayed by the American Edward Hicks, where an extraordinary variety of animals, some of which with almost human expressions, witness the historical event of the treaty between William Penn and the Delaware tribe in a serene atmosphere of harmony.

Explicit homage to the Douanier is paid by the Romanian Victor Brauner, who was close to the Parisian Surrealists in the 1930s. His charmer no longer holds nature in a magical spell but addresses a somewhat disquieting figure of the imagination. The Forest of the Surrealist master Max Ernst is instead a place of rich poetry and wild imagination.

Rousseau’s jungles constituted a very important iconographic legacy all through the 1920s and for the various schools of realism that grew up in Europe and Italy during the period between the two world wars. Primitivism was the term used in connection with Tullio Garbari, whose Creation of Eve presents a balance between human representation and a structured setting clearly influenced by Rousseau.

Carlo Carrà also went through a phase close to primitivism before embarking in the early 1920s on a great period of classical realism with warm but timeless atmospheres and stark, silent landscapes, as exemplified by his masterpiece The Pine by the Sea.