Books 6 - 8 Years9 - 12 Years

A Spectacular Picture Book: The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

Who are the creators of this picture book?

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau‘ is a magical picturebook is written by Michelle Merkel and illustrated by  Amanda Hall.

Why Henri Rousseau?

A toll collector, an untrained artist and sometimes musician Henri Rousseau is considered the father of modern art. When he first exhibited his paintings, critics were shocked beyond belief. They tore his work apart in their critiques and one simply spat at it. None of this, of course, deterred Rousseau. He continued to paint his brilliant jungles with lions, panthers, antelopes and tropical trees.

His fascination with these tropical animals and jungles did not come from his visits abroad, but rather through his many visits to the Botanical Garden in Paris and from several stamps and books with botanical illustrations. He read and learned so that he could bring to canvas the animals of his dreams.

“When I step into the hothouses and see the plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am in a dream.”

Despite the scorn, Rousseau continued to paint in a style contrary to what was in vogue. Disproportionate figures, paintings that ran wild unmindful of the norms further angered critics. Rousseau it appears was immune to this criticism and continued to paint and display in his own inimitable style.

The BBC Culture website in a discussion with curators Museum Folkwang exhibition, (the exhibition examines Rousseau in the context of 12 other self-taught artists who had an influence on modern art) have this to say about Rousseau.

If Rousseau had been formally trained, he probably couldn’t have painted his famous jungle paintings, because he would have been told what to do and what not to do: there were rules. And Rousseau didn’t care about rules. He made his own. And [as a result] he had a definite influence on Matisse as well as Picasso – in a direct pictorial way.

–Kasper König

In a sense, the point about being self-taught is not necessarily to follow the rules of academic painting. And this is, of course, also true with all great art.

–Falk Wolf

In that sense the untrained Rousseau was pure and unfettered with rules. He observed, he learnt and then expressed himself as truly as possible on canvas. His art did not aim to impress or please the viewer, they were his true visual expressions done with true feeling. Irrespective of whether others took Rousseau’s artwork seriously or not, he did. He retired at the age of 49 to paint full-time. Tropical Storm (Surprised!), The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, La Bohemienne endormie (The Sleeping Gypsy).The Snake Charmer, The Hungry Lion, and The Football Players are some of his well-known works.

He exhibited regularly with the exception of one or two years at Salon des Indépendants, an organisation that allowed independent artists to display their work. The organisation eschewed an admission jury, so that artists may display their works freely to the viewing public. Previously, contemporary artists found it hard to display their work, since they did not follow the rigid rules of classical painting. Rooms for display were provided by the city of Paris. One of the key bylaws of the organisation stated ‘The right to present their works to the public with no restrictions’. This proved to be the place where Rosseau exhibited year after year, unfettered. Younger artists were surprised and often exhilarated to see this complete break from traditional art. Their own experiments with art grew bolder, thanks to the presence of Rousseau’s work. In that sense, Rousseau is often known as the father of modern art.

 

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau

The picturebook inspired by this artist is a tribute to Rousseau’s art, grit and perseverance. The illustrations by Amanda Hall are spectacular and imitate Rousseau’s own independent style. Children will love the beautiful, bright colours while Michelle Merkel’s writing brings out the spirit of this splendid artist.

Rousseau was considered primitive, not unlike the African art that can be seen in some ancient masks. Today’s artists and curators are able to see the beauty and realism of Rousseau’s art.

Pablo Picasso was drawn by Rousseau’s work and held on to Rousseau’s paintings till his death. He celebrated Rousseau and was to some extent gently amused by Rousseau’s own comparisons to him. After all Picasso was a highly trained artist from Spain; Picasso yearned though for the ‘untrainedness’ and innocence of Rousseau’s work.

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau captures the life and times of an unusual artist, who found time to seek and express the beauty of the world, despite his worldly cares.

Watch the book trailer

You can get your own copy of The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau here.

Suitable for children: 5 to 9 years

Lexile Reading: 800L

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