Skip Navigation

Henri Rousseau

Skip Side Navigation



Henri Rousseau (France, 1844-1910)
Street in the Suburbs
(Rue en Banlieue), c. 1896
Oil on canvas, 20 ½ x 23 ½ in.
Loan, A. Max Weitzenhoffer


Henri Julien Félix Rousseau settled in Paris in 1868 and worked first as a bailiff and then as a toll collector at the city limits. In his spare time, he learned to paint by studying works at the Musée du Louvre and the Musée du Luxembourg, among others. Rousseau never received formal training in anatomy, perspective, and color theory, which resulted in a naïve and otherworldly quality in his paintings. His work drew the attention of Camille Pissarro, Paul Signac, and other members of the Parisian avant-garde, who found his paintings to be emotionally and spiritually sincere and unadulterated by the artifice of academic training. Signac invited Rousseau to exhibit at the unjuried Salon des Indépendants in 1886 and, by the mid-1890s, the latter was widely known among the avant-garde as “Le Douanier” or “The Customs Officer,” a nickname given him by the writer Alfred Jarry.

Having been born in the rural Laval, Rousseau found artistic interest in the countryside and the quiet suburbs of Paris. Rue en Banlieue depicts a nearly deserted street, save for a sole individual who appears to be clearing and burning debris. Rousseau’s interest in this scene seems to have been the architecture, the lines of which are slanted by a flawed perspective. Rousseau reduced the façades of the buildings to simple planes yet emphasized small details such as the individual leaves on the nearby trees. In turn, the painting possesses an airless, dreamy quality that would later influence Surrealism, an art movement that sought to express the unconscious through imaginative imagery. Although Rousseau never found critical or public acceptance during his lifetime, he won the admiration of Pablo Picasso, Guillaume Apollinaire, and other modern artists and writers, and his example helped to create an appreciation for folk or outsider artists.