Henri Rousseau, known as le Douanier
Portrait of Madame M.

Portrait of Madame M.
Henri Rousseau, known as le Douanier (1844-1910)
Portrait of Madame M.
Circa 1895-1897
Oil on canvas
H. 198; W. 115 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski


Portrait of woman

Portrait de Madame M.[Portrait of Madame M.]


Amongst the many portraits painted by Rousseau, it is rare to find a full-length portrait and one of such a size. However, there is another, which belonged to Pablo Picasso (Paris, Musée Picasso). The one in the Musée d'Orsay shows much more fluency in its design and composition and more care in its execution. Although the identity of the model remains uncertain, it might have been a commission, and we know that with Rousseau, the higher the fee, the better the portrait. The bouffant sleeves, called "Medicis", which were very fashionable around 1895, enable the painting to be dated. The bracelets, the parasol with its elegant handle and the delicate scarf around the neck tell us that the model probably belonged to the wealthy middle classes.

Here, the traditional rules of perspective disappear. The soft, refined colours, the clear drawing and the luminous shapes evoke a world of riches and light. The face is less set than usual. Rousseau reduced the importance of the head by reducing the width of the hair (the reworking is visible). The dissymmetry of the arms and the placing of the left leg in front create some animation. The natural setting, where a cat plays with a ball, also helps to reduce the rigidity of this portrait, while enhancing the black areas of the dress and the parasol. The model is surrounded by different kinds of bushes and flowers, too stylised to be identified, except for the pansies placed at the front. These particular flowers are prominent in several paintings.
With this work, Rousseau seemed to want to rival, at least unconsciously, the society portraits of the Salon, or the great Flemish portraits of the 17th century. But above all, he remains faithful to a style and a world that are his own.




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