“Nothing makes me so happy as to observe nature and to paint what I see.” ~Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau (pronunciation) was born May 21, 1844 in Laval, France. Most of his childhood was spent working for his father, who was a tinsmith, but they were in so much debt that eventually their house was seized, and Henri had to move to boarding school. He wasn’t a particularly great student, but he did win prizes for drawing and music.


When Henri was seventeen, he got a job working for a lawyer. However, during that time he was accused of perjury, and so rather than face punishment, Henry enlisted in the military, where he served for four years. His time there was mostly uneventful, but in the years that followed he tended to embellish and exaggerate his feats, making it sound like he went on big, exciting adventures.

Tropical Forest with Apes and Snake

When his father died, he returned home to support his mother and went back to working for the government as a tax collector. In 1868, he married Clémence Boitard (pronunciation), with whom he had several children, though only one of them, his daughter Julia, survived into adulthood.

Exotic Landscape

During this time, Henri began to take up painting and drawing and even got a license to be a copyist at the Louvre. His job most likely didn’t require his full attention all the time, so it’s possible he practiced drawing when he wasn’t otherwise occupied.

The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope

In 1886, he began to exhibit at the Salon des Indépendants (pronunciation), or the Society of Independent Artists, and although his art was ridiculed by critics, plenty of people loved his work and he had many fans.

The Mill

One such fan was Pablo Picasso, who had found and bought one of Rousseau’s paintings, Portrait of a Women, in a small street shop. Picasso later threw a huge party in Rousseau’s honor, though it was mostly as a joke.

Portrait of a Women

Despite the attention, Rousseau’s art went mostly unnoticed, and he lived his life in poverty before dying of an infected leg injury in 1910. However his popularity only continued to grow after his death, and today he is considered one of the most popular naïve artists of all time.

The Sleeping Gypsy

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For more project ideas, check out these Henri Rousseau-inspired art projects here:

In the Art Room: A Henri Rousseau-Inspired Mix Media Collage by Cassie Stephens

Rousseau’s Rain Forest Art Lesson for Kids by Faber-Castell

Hide-‘N-Seek Animals by Crayola

1st Grade – Art Folders Inspired by Rousseau! by Paintbrush Rocket