Henri Rousseau: Under Paris Skies

Sep.11 (Sat), 2010 – Mar.13 (Sun), 2011
Rousseau is a unique artist whose works, with their unusual charm, have endless appeal. Commemorating 100 years since Rousseau’s death, the current exhibition consists of the artists’ works in the permanent collection of the Pola Museum of Art, as well as selected Rousseau works from other collections in Japan. In addition, Montmartre avant-garde painters, including Picasso - one of the first to recognize Rousseau’s genius, naïve artists Bauchant and Botero, who are considered to be in Rousseau’s lineage, and Japanese artist Oka Shikanosuke who called Rousseau “an artist of a great century,” are also represented.

The exhibition is presented in five sections. The first section, Rousseau’s Paris: panorama of the fin de siècle city, concentrates on Rousseau’s landscape paintings of Paris and its environs. Symbols of the new century - the banks of the Seine with their central importance to transport at the time, the Eiffel Tower built for the Paris Exposition, light aircraft zeppelins – appear spectacularly in these paintings. All time and space is presented as if converged in a huge collage of fin de siècle Paris. Rousseau took this complex reality and presented it in a unique way, unbound by traditional themes and conventions. This section of the exhibition explores how Rousseau viewed the changing face of Paris, and especially how, as an artist, he approached the transforming atmosphere of the time.

The second section, Gauguin and Rousseau: longing for the tropics, compares the two artists’ depictions of exotic landscapes. The two French artists were drawn, even while living in Paris, to the colors, dense air, and mysteries of human interaction with flora and fauna of the tropics. Paint brushes in hand, they leapt to the exotic world. This section of the exhibition explores the relation between the jungle scenes of Rousseau, who never ventured abroad, and the painting of Gauguin, who traveled the world, and the attraction of these two painters to the tropics.

The third section, Rousseau and the Artists of Montmartre, presents works of Rousseau’s young contemporaries. In 1908, Picasso held a gathering at his Montmartre studio in appreciation of Rousseau. The avant-garde artists Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Marie Laurencin recognized an affinity with Rousseau and applauded the elder artist’s fresh innovations. Léonard Foujita, who arrived in Paris after Rousseau’s death, was inspired by Rousseau, and continued to depict the landscape of the poor sections of the city, and the people living there. Maurice Utrillo is another artist who showed affection for the streets of Montmartre. This section of the exhibition explores the works of these spiritual “soul-mates” of Rousseau, and various aspects of their connections with the city of Paris.

The fourth section, Naïve Painting: Bauchant and Botero, highlights works of naïve artists André Bauchant and Fernando Botero. Rousseau was self-taught as an artist, and the word “naïve” took on and kept this meaning even after Rousseau’s death. However, subsequent “naïve” artists used this appellation to identify their style of painting. Bauchant constructed a world that could be called a gardener’s paradise of plants. Botero’s works show rotund people, full of satisfaction. Through these two artists, the exhibition reflects on the meaning of “naïve” in art.

The fifth section of the exhibition, Oka Shikanosuke: Rousseau and Japan, introduces Oka’s still life and landscape paintings that are viewed as a tribute to Rousseau. Suzuki Tsuneshi (1930-2000), late owner of the Pola Orbis Group who built the Pola Collection, became an avid collector of Rousseau works as a result of his relation with artist Oka Shikanosuke, who introduced Rousseau’s importance to Japan. Through the relation of Oka Shikanosuke to Rousseau and to Suzuki Tsuneshi, the aesthetic found in Rousseau’s paintings came to capture the imagination of the Japanese audience.