PRINT May 1985


The beautiful new House on 53rd Street is currently featuring an intriguing survey of works by Henri Rousseau,1844–1910.

All Art has Style. . . . . . . .
The Question is Validity.

ROUSSEAU’S INCLUSION WITHIN THESE walls is of special import, when one considers that his esthetic solutions promote little of the expected Reductionist or Freudianesque dogma that is academically used to explain the Works of the Modern Age.

This guy’s stuff just doesn’t fit in. But the fact is that his style is far more timeless and transcultural than mere Modern Art. Naives appear in all ages and cultures, and they share the deepest of validities.

Ordered Honesty—Content in every Detail . . . this is Rousseau.

Contemplating the nature of the Naive Artist is an intriguing exercise. The simple truth is, that, if one is not Ionian, one is naive to some degree. True “Prims” carry naiveté beyond all balanced logic: after much contemplation and factoring of current clinical knowledge, it seems to me that “Prims” are simply left-brain dominant.

Now . . . the esthetic swim of Rousseau’s day promoted either brushwork with “Snap” or "Oily-slick”—Meissonier, Bouguereau, Gérôme, French Academy—Greece and Rome putrified. Was Rousseau, while existing in this dense cultural emulsion with Empire dripping off everything? was this bumpy old man totally unaware of these conventions, and simply dinging the linen blissfully?

Or . . . was he doubly conscious of convention, and totally aware of the valid integrity his “Homemade Style” offered? Most likely it’s a combination of the two.

Many of his Modern contemporaries advanced his cause because they perceived that he too was rejecting the academic solutions. But in fact he shows a deep regard for Classical ideals and formats—and early on desired to hang with the Academy crowd.

Rousseau’s more than a stream-of-consciousness “Prim.” This show reveals his art-making to be a very structured endeavor. He valued refinement, and consciously attempted technical advancement. His painting “in the field,” the final solution for the great Monet, is but a prelude to his real art-making. Rousseau also worked in two distinct styles simultaneously (the Genre works and the Jungle pictures), a rather unnaive quality. Rousseau’s pictures of contemporary France are extremely compelling, this is what he knows; the colors, the people, the buildings. I find the Jungle pictures, his stab at Modern art, suffer chromatically by comparison, yet are nicely harmonized with Freudian overtones.

This gathering may prove a most timely survey, for the quality that these works offer is in short supply today . . . Statement Unadorned. Hopefully it’s a potent dose for this Age of “Sloppy-thinkin’ and Sloppy-makin’.” I suggest that you make the time to check these marks of a true Soul Brother.

Neil Jenney is an artist.

#cut off#