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Henri Rousseau - The Sleeping Gypsy Woman

by Alexandra Tuschka

Is it still naive or already surreal? The painter Henri Rousseau, who retired from his job as a customs officer at the age of 41 in order to pursue painting, does not easily fit into the usual stylistic categories.

It is certainly a spartan picture: a girl lies in the foreground next to a mandolin and sleeps. Even in the dream she still holds her walking stick in her hand. A lion stands close behind here and sniffs the sleeping girl at the shoulder. On the right side of the picture there is also a vase. In the background we see the sea, framed by a mountain landscape. In the sky is the full moon. Rousseau's preference for large areas of color, for simplifying patterns and contours is also expressed here. The girl's wavy hair is clearly reflected in her robe and blanket. The clear composition , divided by various horizontals, also exhibits this parallelism. Less certain is the moment depicted: is the girl dreaming and does the lion appear in her dream or has he stalked her while she sleeps? Is there a threat emanating from him?

Rousseau himself gives us the answer on the frame of the painting: the cat, although wild, hesitates to pounce on the prey, which, exhausted with fatigue, is fast asleep.

Henri Rousseau - The Sleeping Gypsy Woman

Oil on canvas, 1897, 130 x 201 cm, Museum of Modern Art in New York.


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