Self-Portrait, 1890, National Museum, Prague
“He was born in Laval, Department of Mayenne, in 1844, the son of a tinsmith. His mother is said to have been so excessively pious that she spent far more than the family could afford on delicacies to give to the local clergy when they came to call. I do not believe – as I used to – the story about Rousseau’s going to Mexico in the 1860s as a regimental musician in Maximilian’s army. He was, however, a sergeant during the Franco-Prussian war, and claimed to have seen some front-line action.
Settling in Paris after the war, he entered the municipal toll service and began to paint in his spare time. There are a number of stories about how he happened to take up painting in the first place. According to one, he was urged to it by Alfred Jarry (“Père Ubu”), who also came from Laval and whose father had been a friend of Rousseau’s father. According to another, Gaughin is supposed to have made a bet that any completely naïve person could paint if given a chance – and having met Rousseau started him off. It is needless to argue whether such stories are true or false. Rousseau’s sense of artistic mission was so strong that he required no external stimulus. It is commonly believed that he was 40 or 41 when he began -- i.e., that he began around 1885. But the works dating from this period are technically so skilled that it may be taken for granted that he started earlier.”
The Snake Charmer, 1907, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Wilhelm Uhde, Five Primitive Masters (translated by Ralph Thompson), New York, Quadrangle Books, 1949.
Slapp Happy: Just A Conversation (Link)