Henri Rousseau was ridiculed in his lifetime by sophisticated art critics as too naïve, unschooled, even retarded. The critics were finally done with their aghast denouncement of the impressionists and they were not ready for yet another artist’s challenge to their easy eyes.
At Rescued Art, we have a real appreciation of untrained artists, like older ladies painting florals in their basements, requiring a floating imagination to get them up to ground level and into their gardens. This is true of Henri Rousseau. He is famous for exotic fantasy settings in tropical jungles. Yet, he had never been to the tropics. He just loved his dreams of lush forest growth in the heat and humidity.
This one is the first of his famous jungle paintings: “Surprised.” Blowing rain and lightning. A tiger is crouched in fear. Yet, Rousseau never made his big cats ferocious. This guy is hoping predators and men will fear him, but his face reveals a lonely scared cat.
At this Cleveland off-brand thrift store, there was a guy standing near the checkout lady. We asked her if there was a Goodwill store near there. He overheard and said, much of it with his pointed finger painting the directions in the air: “Go left here over the bridge, turn left to the Giant Eagle. Just past there, go left down the little curvy street and it is on your right.” We were lost in Cleveland so I asked him again. He rolled his eyes a big roll. (He did this a lot because he was just a tad slow-minded, but also, because we art rescuers from out of town are pretty stupid.) He went through the directions again, this time faster and pointing his brush over the bridge and swirling it around the curvy street part.
We recognized that we were too thick to figure out where the Goodwill could be, so we thanked him and strolled to the back of the store where the art hides. This was a generic thrift, not a franchise of a national chain. It was chaotically unmerchandized. We had to look beyond the dust and disarray of stuff to discover the treasure of Rousseau’s “Surprised.” It had a piece missing from its gilded frame. The tiger was dulled by messiness. The glass on the front of the piece was flocked. We needed to look with clean eyes through the dirty glass to see the beauty of the print, almost full-sized and still very vibrant. It told us of great experience behind all the roughness. Like the directions guy, this tiger, when we rescued it and pledged to restore its frame, felt in control of things for the first time in a long while.