Rousseau was born in 1844 in Laval, France and lead a seemingly normal life until he took up painting seriously in his early forties. It wasn’t until he was forty-nine that he retired from his job as a toll collector to become a full time artist. Far from being the respected artist he has become today, he was attacked constantly by critics who denounced his style as childish and unskilled. Pablo Picasso, however, thought differently, and after finding one of Rousseau’s paintings being sold on the street as a canvas to be painted over, Picasso tracked Rousseau down and subsequently held a banquet in his honour which John Malcolm Brinnin described as “one of the most notable social events of the twentieth century”.

Attended by a host of influential individuals, Rousseau was projected head first into the art world, but continued to be criticised. Eventually many recognised that as a self-taught painter who had in fact never even left France, (the jungle scenes in Rousseau’s work are inspired by illustrated books, stories from soldiers and botanical gardens), Rousseau was an artistic genius who went on to influence generations of artists, writers (Sylvia Plath), musicians (The Jungle Line by Joni Mitchell) and even film makers (Madagascar 2005).

Image Credit: Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo, 1908- Henri Rousseau