Painting Animals from Imagination Alone?!

A Lesson on Painting Animals from Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau is best known for painting animals — exotic ones. His jungle scenes are icons of art history. But, did you know he never left France during his lifetime?

Painting Animals from Imagination, Henri Rousseau, Animal Paintings, Artist Daily
Exotic Landscape by Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1908.

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 would never have guessed it. I always assumed Rousseau was a safari pro, traveling far and wide, painting animals he saw and all the amazing sights he was exposed to.

Knowing his “exotic” artworks were made up with him sitting in his studio, has given me a greater appreciation for his skills as an artist. His ability to draw the animals and lush plant life that were actually foreign to him is impressive, to say the least.

Just Go For It

Painting Animals from Imagination, Henri Rousseau, Animal Paintings, Artist Daily
Exotic Landscape by Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1910.

Rousseau’s 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. 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.

Painting Animals from Imagination, Henri Rousseau, Animal Paintings, Artist Daily
Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) by Henri Rousseau, oil painting, 1891.

Rousseau’s legacy to contemporary artists should be how 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 mind!

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. This book is filled with 100+ artworks from today’s top artists today. 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!

 

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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