Le Douanier Rousseau, pacifist and republican

Le Douanier Rousseau, pacifist and republican

To close

Title: Representatives of foreign powers coming to greet the Republic as a sign of peace.

Author : ROUSSEAU known as Le Douanier Rousseau Henri (1844 - 1910)

Creation date : 1907

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 130 - Width 161

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: National Picasso Museum Paris website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 97-016244 / RF1973-91

Representatives of foreign powers coming to greet the Republic as a sign of peace.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

Publication date: April 2008

Historical context

At the end of the XIXe century, France settles definitively in the Republic and pursues an industrialization already well started under the Second Empire: Paris is Haussmannian; the Universal Exhibition of 1889 is the pledge of undeniable economic prosperity; a new company is gradually being set up. Impressionism prevails and becomes the new academism, while a few individual visual escapes herald the new century.

Henri Rousseau is one of those original and unclassifiable artistic personalities. Born in Laval in 1844, in a very modest environment, he served as gabelou at the granting of Paris from 1871 to 1893, hence his nickname of Douanier.

His entry into artistic life was relatively late: in 1871, he began to paint as a passionate amateur, without culture or profession. He produced landscapes that often illustrate the technical progress of his time, portraits, patriotic and military subjects, scenes from popular life and views of a Paris he will never leave. But his notoriety is above all linked to paintings on exotic subjects, whose inspiration is nourished by his visits to the Jardin des Plantes, the Natural History Museum, or taken from images borrowed from dictionaries, catalogs, botanical books. or chromos.

Recommended by Paul Signac, he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1886, which allowed him to enter the artistic circuit of his time. In 1893, his friend Alfred Jarry, like him from Laval, made his painting known in the circles of Mercure from France.

Object of sarcasm and disdain from critics, his work is unanimously appreciated by Symbolist painters like Paul Gauguin and Odilon Redon, or avant-garde artists like Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Marie Laurencin, Fernand Léger, Camille Pissarro or the American painter Max Weber, who devoted an exhibition to him in New York in 1910.

Le Douanier Rousseau nevertheless felt very distant from the Impressionists and the Moderns. An admirer of Ingres and academic painters such as Bouguereau or Gérôme, he was, however, neither of tradition nor of the avant-garde. His painting constitutes an original experience, which continues to raise many questions.

Image Analysis

In 1907, the Douanier Rousseau exhibited this painting at the XXIIIe Salon of independent artists. It testifies to his pacifist and republican convictions and his taste for patriotic allegories.

The painter brings together, on the same platform, present and past heads of state who have never been together.

On the left, six French presidents (Armand Fallières, Jules Grévy, Sadi Carnot, Émile Loubet, Casimir Perier and Félix Faure) are grouped under the olive branch that the allegory of the French Republic holds out, a Marianne all dressed in red, wearing the Phrygian cap and which rests on a shield bearing the inscription "Union of peoples".

At their side stand nine foreign rulers: from left to right, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Peter Ier of Serbia, Franz Joseph Ier of Austria, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, George Ier of Greece, Leopold II of Belgium, Menelik II of Ethiopia, Mozaffar-al-Din of Persia and Victor Emmanuel II of Italy.

On the far right stand representatives of the French colonies: Madagascar, Black Africa, Indochina and North Africa.

All of these characters hold an olive branch.

In the background, on the right, children of all origins dance around the statue of the humanist thinker Étienne Dolet, Place Maubert in Paris.


This curious composition is without doubt the most unusual and utopian allegory of Douanier Rousseau. The artist tries to meet the requirements of official art: he hopes to sell the canvas to the state, but it is ultimately Ambroise Vollard, the famous rue Lafitte art dealer, who will acquire it. Pablo Picasso bought it back from him in 1913.

Exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1907, the canvas reveals a lack of learning, constant in the painter's other productions and fatal to the notion of perspective: it is a two-dimensional space, where the symbolic use of color is conscious and manifest.

In this work, the Douanier Rousseau puts his creative power at the service of an ideal of freedom, pacifist and republican. Certainly, the France of the IIIe République is far from occupying, on the international scene, the place that the artist confers on it on the canvas: the Sedan disaster still occupies everyone's minds. Similarly, Rousseau exaggerates the success of this work and attributes it to the holding of the International Conference in The Hague, held from June to October 1907, which tried in vain to reach an agreement on general disarmament. However, the Salon des Indépendants took place in March 1907!

Nevertheless, this painting is in the same vein as the one entitled Liberty inviting artists to take part in the XXIIe exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, exhibited in 1906 and in which the Douanier Rousseau, self-taught genius, celebrates the necessary freedom which must govern artistic production.

  • allegory
  • Marianne
  • pacifism
  • Presidency of the Republic
  • Third Republic
  • Fallières (Armand)
  • Loubet (Emile)
  • Faure (Felix)
  • Casimir-Perier (Jean)
  • Carnot (Sadi)
  • Grevy (Jules)
  • colonies
  • Franz Joseph of Austria
  • William II of Germany
  • Picasso (Pablo)
  • Redon (Odilon)
  • Signac (Paul)
  • Nicholas II (Tsar)
  • Gauguin (Paul)
  • granting


GREEN Christopher, MORRIS Frances, FRÈCHES-THORY Claire, GILLE Vincent, Le Douanier Rousseau: jungles in Paris, cat. exp. (London, Paris, Washington, 2005-2006), Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2006.

LEMAIRE Gérard-Georges, Rousseau, Paris, Cercle d'Art, coll. "Let's discover art" (no 7), 2006.

PLAZY Gilles, Le Douanier Rousseau: a naive in the jungle, Paris, Gallimard, coll. "Découvertes Gallimard" (no 153), 1992.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Le Douanier Rousseau, pacifist and republican"

Video: Le Douanier Rousseau, un naïf dans la jungle - #CulturePrime