Long before he gained popularity amongst the major retrospectives and long before he got recognition from institutes like the Tate Museum and particular reference in Sylvia Plath’s poetry, Henri Rousseau spent a lifetime being criticized and ridiculed for the art he produced.

Having fate in poverty, working alongside his father, who was a plumber, Rousseau spent almost two decades of his life serving in the customs service. Then, at the age of 40, out of nowhere, he started painting; perhaps he was too bored with his job, or perhaps he had to give his nature-inspired dreams a medium of depiction. 

Henri Rousseau’s Paintings and the Critics

After painting for a few years in 1886, he exhibited four of his artworks at the Salon, the venue for the Post Impressionists. These paintings were ridiculed and mocked. Henri Rousseau’s art is said to be more childlike work, and instead of outrageously reacting to it, Rousseau saved the comments in his scrapbook.

Shockingly funny as it may sound, it appears that the artist was least bothered with what people thought. He did paint to inspire others. Instead, it seems that he was fulfilling his dreams, finding out an outlet to express his dreams. And in this regard, despite the severe criticism he received, Rousseau continued preparing and presenting more work to the Salon fulfilling his repressive need for art.

Despite how late Henri Rousseau stepped into building his artistic career, it could be seen that his love for art had its roots in nature. And since he could not afford professional art school, he educated himself. He did this by visiting the Louvre, where he used to study paintings and examine artists’ works and, thereby, got acquainted with human anatomy.

His work received deep criticism, as evident when one of the critics remarked: “Monsieur Rousseau paints with his feet, with a blindfold over his eyes.” In contrast, others criticized his artwork for being grotesque. This may be because his works were not up to the standard of the 19th Century art world.

Rousseau’s paintings were rather rough, and his composition was awkward. In other words, he had no sense of perspective or color that was elaborately idiosyncratic, and more importantly, he couldn’t paint feet. This is conspicuous when one looks at the strange limbs in Football Players of 1908.

Years followed, and criticism continued. His work was responded to in words such as “If you want to have a good laugh, go see the paintings by Henri Rousseau.” Rousseau eventually got used to the comments and knew his work was flat as compared to other artists, yet he personally loved it. Finally, after a while, He got his break when his work got recognition by the young artists inclined to appreciate his kind-heartedness.

Tropical Forest With Apes And Snake – Henri Julien Rousseau

Jungle-themed artwork

At a very old age, the painter Henri Rousseau created jungle-themed masterpieces, which finally got appreciation at a standard public level. Not this masterpiece got him fame, but he was successful throughout his journey since he had found his purpose beyond satisfactory.

Being self-taught, it was Rousseau’s jungle themes paintings that became instantly lovable, adding a mysterious angle to the art world. Large and flat, it visibly cast a spell as it magnified his silent observation of Paris transposing into another world. Astonishingly, he painted these paintings without exiting Paris.

He got his breakthrough through these works depicting lush green jungles that sought inspiration from kids’ books, zoos, and botanical gardens. Considering the wide list of Henri Rousseau Jungle paintings, some of his famous works are briefly described below:

Tiger In A Tropical Storm Surprised – Henri Julien Rousseau


Surprised! Tiger in a Tropical Storm

This was Rousseau’s first painting following the jungle theme exhibited at Salon showcasing a wild, tooth-bearing, fierce tiger from the grass. The background features the arrival of a storm evident through the dark sky, lightning, and windy atmosphere. The artist experimented with colors that led him to express the scene.

With shades of green showcasing the jungle and the silver stand representing rain, Rousseau, while experimenting with colors, creates an atmosphere that makes art so enduring. The Parisians loved exotic and dangerous animals at that time, and quite often, one would see the fierce tiger in Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings.

As always, this work was again criticized, and Rousseau took several years to paint another jungle-themed painting; his determination led him to ultimately set guiding standards for the artists of the younger generation.

The Hungry Lion throws itself on the Antelope

Among the best Henri Rousseau paintings are the work ‘The hungry lion throws itself on the antelope,’ which sets the scene of a zoological garden that Rousseau often visited. The painting showcases how a hungry lion chows a helpless antelope. In the lush green jungle, other predators are waiting for their turn.

The scene takes you to consider Rousseau’s foliage as visible through the fine detail of the greyish-green grass, the vibrant sky, and the colors used to showcase the setting sun. This inspired the term fauvism, which has its basis in vivid expressions and the use of non-naturalistic colors.

Intense as it may sound, critics referred to this Henri Rousseau art as to mirror of another cave painting. Nevertheless, it was one of the most outstanding creations of the artists that received admiration from great art masters like Pablo Picasso, and it became a source of inspiration for the younger artists.


The self-taught artist, Henri Rousseau, inspired people, especially the artists of the younger generation, with his dreamy artwork. His work received severe criticism from artists, and despite this reaction, Rousseau continued to paint until his jungle-themed artwork got him the fame he deserved. One hundred years down the lane, his paintings are now worldwide. It might appear clumsy or childlike, yet his artworks continue to mesmerize and inspire future generations. 


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