Painting Animals from Imagination Alone
Henri Rousseau is best known for painting animals–exotic ones. His jungle scenes are icons of art history but did you know that he never left France during his lifetime? All the imagery he painted was invented entirely in his mind and perhaps coupled with inspiration he got from listening to others talk of their adventuring and the sights he saw during his trips to the botanical gardens and fauna exhibitions in Paris.
I never would have guessed it. I always assumed Rousseau was a safari pro, traveling far and wide and painting animals he saw and all the amazing sights he was exposed to. But knowing that all the work was made up with him sitting in his studio, I actually have a greater appreciation for his skills in how to draw animals and the lush plant life that was actually so foreign to him.
His work is a valuable lesson in that you can paint what you want even if you’ve never had an eyewitness view of it. If you want to learn how to draw birds soaring on the African Sahara but have never left your hometown, give it a try! If you want to create horse drawings but have never been up close to one, take a shot at it. Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) is one of my favorites of Rousseau’s works because everything is so stylized, from the body and pose of the tiger to the trees and brush he’s crouching in, and yet the atmospheric qualities of the lightning storm overhead feels so true.
Rousseau’s legacy to contemporary artists should be that he followed his bliss. He painted what he wanted and didn’t let circumstances or reception stop him. It’s not easy, but we should be glad of it. And every time I look at his work I still see an intrepid adventurer-painter revealing what he has seen during his world travels, even though those travels occurred in his imagination!
If you are drawn to soulful and moving depictions of animals and wildlife like I am, treat yourself to Art Journey Animals: A Collection of Inspiring Contemporary Masterworks. 100+ artworks from the top artists working today are featured in the pages of this one-of-a-kind resource and you’ll see with every turn of the page how an intimate connection with wildlife and Nature is a gift in and of itself for artists. Enjoy!