"Sleeping Gypsy", 1897

         Some of the images of "Le Dounier" ( "the customs officer", a nickname that refers to the job he had before leaving to devote all his time to art ) are ones I think I knew even before I'd heard of Lyn Ott or awakened to any of the wonders of art. From where did I know them? Perhaps from childhood, itself. For Henri Rousseau got the magic of Imagination, in its naive simplicity, on canvas more directly than any other artist whose work I've seen..

          Rousseau is known as a "primitive", which means that as a painter he was self-taught. As you can see above, his technique is extremely refined, his skill consumate. What is really primitive about Roussseau is his vision itself. He brings it, somehow from the realms of dream and childhood without losing anything. "The Sleeping Gypsy" contains everything to stir the imagination: the rainbow of the gypsy's tunic; the graceful mandolin; the magnificent, if stylized lion; the romantic desert; moonlight; and, in the background, mountains. In the "tropical jungles" featured in several Rousseau paintings, too, everything is precisely as a child might imagine it--huge, devouring leaves and enormous flowers that never existed, biologically. Yet all is rendered with magnificent detail and skill.

          Rousseau's paintings still make me want to pick up a flute and sing and dance. And of course, the fact that such a master was "unschooled" as an artist, gave me hope that I, too, could be great.

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