Tiger in a Tropical Storm

19 Jul 2012

Henri Rousseau is best known for his exotic jungle scenes, 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 in Paris.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) by Henri Rousseau, oil painting, 1891.
Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)
by Henri Rousseau, oil painting, 1891.

I never would have guessed it. I always assumed Rousseau was a safari pro, traveling far and wide and painting the amazing sights he saw. But knowing that all the work was made up with him sitting in his studio, I 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 (Surprise!) 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 real.

Exotic Landscape by Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1908.
Exotic Landscape by Henri Rousseau,
oil on canvas, 1908.
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, whether he actually saw them or not!

Artist Patricia Traub has spent her life learning how to draw animals that she has seen during her travels far and wide. In her DVD, Drawing Realistic Animals, you can follow along as she draws a rabbit. It is a great way to stretch yourself and learn how to render models that don't always sit still and play by the rules. It is a great exercise if you want to grow in the kind of work you can produce and render in ways you may never have before. Enjoy!


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