The urban and cosmopolitan environment of Paris at the beginning of the 19th century left us realistic works in which the painters found their main source of inspiration in the city and in the society of the time, an environment that was representative of the Impressionist painters such as Monet or Renoir but that gradually wore out so that the artists were looking for new sources of inspiration. Perhaps Rousseau's work is one of the greatest exponents of the new artistic dynamic in which the urban environment gave way to a more ethereal and exotic sensibility.
Henri Julien Félix Rousseau known by the nickname of Customs Officer Rousseau (1844- 1910) was born in a small town in the Loire Valley. The only child in a family, the economic situation of his family forced him to combine his law studies with work and gradually the artist became more and more interested in the artistic world. Unlike most artists, Rousseau never had an academic training and it was not until he was in his forties that the artist fully devoted himself to painting. Perhaps it was the fruit of that lack of academic training that allowed him to develop a boyish style that would make him one of the greatest exponents of the naive style.
In this way in the work of the French artist realistic intentions are combined in a very particular waywith a dreamlike atmosphere in which the taste for the exotic stands out. The work that we analyze here and that is en titled La Jungla, is an oil on canvas in landscape format that measures almost three meters wide and just over two meters high.
There are many works by Rousseau that seem to be set in the tropical forest -perhaps the most representative and well-known of them all is The Tiger Surprised by a Tropical Storm- but the truth is that the artist never reached travel to any exotic place that served as inspiration despite the fact that some theories suggest that he could visit the jungle during the years he worked as a soldier. Rather, art historians argue that the exotic atmosphere of the artist's works is based on the observation of plants in the Natural History Museum of the Parisian capital or on stuffed animals.
In The Jungle we find a completely nude woman on the right side of the canvas who appears reclining on a divan as if she were a real Venus. The woman is Jadwiga, the painter's lover,who observes the lush jungle landscape with exotic flowers and animals, including lions, elephants and a colorful pink snake that slithers towards the viewer. Camouflaged in the undergrowth of the scene, we observe a colored indigenous man who coaxes the snake with his flute.
The artist himself wrote a letter in which he explained the symbology of the canvas, a dream of the young Jadwiga, given the uncertainty of theviewers of the time.