French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau was born on 21 May 1844 in Laval, France in the Loire Valley to a family of tinsmiths. Rousseau was an average student academically, but won prizes for drawing and music at his local school.
After the death of his father, Rousseau moved to Paris to support his widowed mother, working as a tax collector. After 2 marriages and six children, only one of which survived, it wasn't till Rousseau was 49 that he properly began working on his art full time. Self-taught, the gifted artist claimed that he had no teacher other than nature, although he did receive advice from two established academic painters Jean-Leon Gerome and Felix Auguste-Clement.
Considered to be a pioneer in naive or primitive art, Rousseau is best known for his renditions of jungle scenes, despite never leaving France or seeing a jungle in his life! Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) of 1891 was one of the first of many jungle scenes he is most famous for. An oil-on-canvas painting, a tiger is illuminated by a flash of lightning, in mid-stance, preparing to pounce on its prey. The unfortunate prey is beyond the canvas leaving the audience to imagine who it is and what the outcome will be. And despite the simplicity of it, the lush flora and fauna of the jungle in Rousseau's paintings were meticulously painted in layers of green shades.
His main inspirations came from illustrated books and the botanical gardens of Paris, as well as seeing wild animals, preserved by taxidermists. Rousseau also heard encounters from soldiers who has survived the French expedition to Mexico. As his paintings were flat and depicted a rather childish style (hence the tag naïve), art critics of the time had a field day condemning his work as something that was nice to look at but ultimately not serious art.
Rousseau's work continued to be ridiculed by critics till his death in 1910, but he won a following amongst his peers, with fans such as Picasso, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec.