Henri Rousseau (1844 – 1910), despite being nicknamed The Customs Officer and not leaving France, painted numerous pictures of a jungle setting. And of all of them the first was this one en titled Surprise dated in 1891. A work that is currently preserved in the National Gallery of London.
Henri Rousseau Surprise
And what was he inspired to paint all that exuberant vegetation? Well, on the one hand, it is known that he liked to discover the stories that the French soldiers made after their return from Mexican lands, to which they had come in military support of the failed Emperor Maximilian. Although those memories were not the only data that inspired Rousseau. It is also known that he was a regular visitor to theJardin des Plantes de Paris, where there was a good display of tropical vegetation. Just as it is possible that he sometimes visited the Parisian zoo where he could see live tigers. Although it is not ruled out that it was based more on the orientalist and exotic paintings starring this type of animal that Delacroix had painted, who made various canvases representing the big cats of other lands, such as in The Hunt of the lion.
The truth is that in the environmentpost-impressionistin which he developed his workThe Customs Officerany artistic proposal could be possible. The preceding movement of Impressionismhad opened the ban for all kinds of roads. Which itself were the basis of the future vanguards in the first decades of the 20th century. However, the path chosen by Henri Rousseau was exceptional, unique, for this type of court painting naïf and absolutely uninhibited, it had no continuation.
That uniqueness, both thematic and, above all, formal, perhaps explains the title of the painting, which was sure to cause a real surprise among viewers and even among other artists when it was exhibited in 1891 at the Salón de los Independientes. moment. The surprise was so great that the truth is that Rousseau did not paint a painting like this again, with a tropical setting, until a decade later when he produced his masterpiece: The Dream.
The truth is that we are dealing with an absolutely unclassifiable painter. A character who did not make any painting until he was forty years old, nor had he shown interest in it, and who had no training in art. He had always been a member of the customs administration. But one fine day he began to paint and pictures like this one came out. Which were amazing at the time. For some they were real rubbish, and for others jewels in which his primitiveness and his color stood out. The debate still continues today and this dichotomy continues to exist when it comes to judging his output, but the fact is that he is aPost-Impressionist painterpresent in top-tier museums around the world.