Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Presents Rousseau Exhibition

One hundred years after the death of Henri Rousseau in 1910, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, in collaboration with the Fondation Beyeler of Basel, dedicates an exhibition to the extraordinary French painter. Open 25 May through 12 September, 2010.

Approximately thirty masterpieces provide a sweeping review of the tremendous breadth of his artistic career and underscore Rousseau’s importance as one of the main forerunners of modern art, whose influence was destined to belie early descriptions of him as “charming, though rather odd and naïve.”

From his famous jungle paintings in the later stages of his career, to the views of Paris and its environs, figures, portraits, allegories, and genre paintings, the exhibition gives a unique insight into the essential visual world of Rousseau.

nitially, Rousseau painted mostly small-format pictures depicting the French suburbs and the surrounding countryside of his immediate environment. In these landscapes, wilderness is represented by dense wooded areas on the background that the artist used to separate the visual realm by means of either a fence or behind a fortification wall, as in House on the Outskirts of Paris (Maison de la banlieue de Paris, ca. 1905, Carnegie Museum of Art). Gradually, he moved away from this rationally organized civilization toward an unorganized, wild depiction of nature. This passage from the well ordered and familiar to the unknown and alien defined his later work as can be seen in Landscape (Paysage, 1905–10, Philadelphia Museum of Art).

In his famous jungle paintings, Rousseau, who never actually set foot in a jungle, finally succeeded in leaving the sphere of domestication behind for his imaginary wilderness. Now working in a significantly larger format, Rousseau lent these invented landscapes a compelling visual reality. The culmination of the exhibition is formed by a significant assembly of Rousseau’s famous jungle pictures. Of special mention is the monumental painting The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope (Le lion, ayant faim, se jette sur l’antilope , 1895/1905, Fondation Beyeler) included on the occasion of Rousseau’s first appearance at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1905. In March 1906, art dealer and collector Ambroise Vollard acquired the sensational painting—the first Rousseau ever to enter the art trade—in which the artist’s talent for creating an imaginary new world comprised of various figures set against a stage like environment are shown.

In addition, the exhibition illustrates Rousseau’s well-documented interest in photography for source material. A few of his compositions, such as Old Junier’s cart (La carriole du père Junier , 1908, Musée l’Orangerie) were definitively based on photographs. In the course of transferring the photographic image to the canvas, he created an entirely new visual world, arranging its elements into another image layer by layer in front of his imaginary camera lens.

Yet for all his reliance on photographic realism, Rousseau always strove to keep the depicted world at a distance. This is especially seen in The Wedding (La noce, 1904–05, Musée l’Orangerie), a large-format painting whose distortions of scale and proportions with respect to the original model are immediately obvious. Indeed, the simultaneity of character and dream in Rousseau’s paintings, the flatness and lack of perspective, and his peculiar manner of lighting the picture plane, with both brilliant sun and shadowless figures, all combine to give his images a highly tuned Surrealist quality.

After the Impressionist painters and the succeeding generation created a new way to look at the visible, Rousseau introduced into his paintings a new approach to imaginative vision. His perception of reality was based primarily on observation, imitation and transformation of the visible. In this way, he taught modern artists how the unknown could be constructed using the building blocks of the known. He established a new logic and mechanics of compositional structure that profoundly affected subsequent generations of artists, most notably the Surrealists Max Ernst and René Magritte.

Many renowned museums and collections in Europe and America have contributed to the success of the exhibition by their generous provision of loans. These include the Musée national de l’Orangerie, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, in Paris; The Mayor Gallery, London; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; the Nahmad Collection, Switzerland; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York; the Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, Massachusetts; the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C.; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; the Kunsthaus Zürich; and a number of private collections.

Image: Henri Rousseau
The Hungry Lion throws itself on the Antelope
(Le lion, ayant faim, se jette sur l’antilope)
1898/1905 Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel

www.guggenheim-bilbao.es

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