The Dream is a 1910 painting by French Naïve and Post-Impressionist artist Henri Rousseau. It is located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Analysis of Rousseau’s The Dream
The Dream (also known as Le Songe or Rêve exotique) is one of Henri Rousseau’s most iconic and enigmatic paintings, created in 1910. This masterpiece is a quintessential example of Rousseau’s unique and imaginative style, often described as naïve or “primitive” art. This picture was also Rousseau’s final work.
In The Dream, Rousseau transports viewers into a lush, dreamlike jungle landscape. The painting features a reclining nude woman, seemingly at ease in the exotic surroundings. She lies on a plush red couch, and it is difficult to determine if she has her eyes closed or open.
The dreamer is surrounded by a menagerie of wild animals, including tigers, snakes, an elephant, and exotic birds, all of which are rendered with a sense of calm and serenity. These animals appear to coexist harmoniously with the dreamer, defying their natural instincts.
Rousseau’s use of color in The Dream is striking. The rich and vivid hues create a surreal and otherworldly atmosphere, adding to the dreamlike quality of the scene. The composition features a central triangle formed by the dreamer’s body, her reclined arm, and the triangular foliage above her, contributing to the overall sense of balance and harmony in the painting.
The dreamer herself is a mysterious figure. Her tranquil expression suggests that she is lost in a world of dreams, detached from the reality of the jungle that surrounds her. The representation of the dreamer is stylized and simplified, reflecting Rousseau’s characteristic childlike approach to figure painting.
The Dream is often interpreted as a depiction of the dreamer’s subconscious, where the wild and untamed elements of nature are in peaceful coexistence with the human psyche. It invites viewers to contemplate the boundary between the conscious and unconscious mind, where the rational and irrational meet.
Rousseau never traveled to the exotic locations he painted but instead drew inspiration from botanical gardens, illustrated books, and his imagination. This approach, combined with his lack of formal training, contributed to the dreamlike and otherworldly quality of his work.
The Dream is considered a masterpiece of modern art and a testament to Rousseau’s unique vision and contribution to the art world.
Salon des Indépendants
The painting was exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1910. The Salon des Indépendants, a prominent and influential art exhibition, was founded in Paris in 1884 in response to the restrictive policies of the official Salon. It played a pivotal role in the development of modern art and the promotion of avant-garde movements.
It was established as a response to the conservative and restrictive practices of the traditional French art establishment, particularly the official Salon, which was controlled by the Academy and upheld strict academic standards. Artists seeking a platform for their innovative and unconventional work found solace in the Salon des Indépendants, which lived up to its name by offering participants complete autonomy over the selection and display of their art.
One of the defining features of the Salon des Indépendants was its inclusivity. Unlike the official Salon, it welcomed artists from a wide range of backgrounds, regardless of age or reputation. This openness allowed emerging talents to showcase their work alongside established artists, fostering a spirit of egalitarianism and artistic exploration.
The Salon des Indépendants was instrumental in introducing the Parisian public to various avant-garde movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Notably, it played a key role in the development of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, and other groundbreaking art movements. Some of the most famous works of art in the history of modernism were first exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants.
The exhibition’s rejection of formal jury selection and awards was another revolutionary aspect of the Salon des Indépendants. Instead, it offered a democratic platform for artists to present their work directly to the public. This approach allowed for a diverse and often controversial array of artworks to be displayed.
Among the renowned artists associated with the Salon des Indépendants were Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse. These artists used the Salon as a launchpad for their innovative ideas and contributed significantly to the evolution of art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Similarities to Titian’s Venus of Urbino
The female figure in The Dreamer is strikingly similar to that of Titian’s Venus of Urbino, a popular subject that was used as a subject by many artists. These pictures often belong to the genre of the reclining female nude, where a woman is depicted in a relaxed and sensuous manner. These works tend to explore themes of beauty, eroticism, and the female form.
Similar paintings include Manet’s Olympia, The Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Sleeping Venus by Giorgione, L’Origine du Monde by Gustave Courbet, and The Nude Maja by Francisco Goya.
Purchase by Ambroise Vollard
The Dreamer is notable in that French art dealer Ambroise Vollard acquired the painting directly from Rousseau in 1910.
Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a prominent French art dealer and publisher who played a pivotal role in the promotion and support of modern art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His biography is characterized by his significant contributions to the art world, his close relationships with influential artists, and his role in shaping the development of modern art.
Born on July 3, 1866, in Saint-Denis, Réunion, Vollard moved to Paris in 1885 and began his career as an art dealer, initially dealing with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. He was a passionate collector and had an innate talent for identifying emerging artistic talent. He was a close friend and patron of artists like Paul Cézanne, Édouard Manet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, aiding in the recognition and promotion of their work.
One of his most significant accomplishments was the organization of groundbreaking art exhibitions. In 1901, he hosted the first retrospective of Paul Cézanne’s work, which played a crucial role in establishing Cézanne’s legacy as a pivotal figure in modern art. Vollard also organized exhibitions featuring the works of Vincent van Gogh, and he introduced the public to the burgeoning Fauvist and Cubist movements.
Henri Rousseau’s Jungle Paintings
Rousseau painted 25 paintings depicting jungle scenes, for which he is perhaps most famous. These lush and exotic works of art are characterized by their dreamlike quality, bold use of color, and imaginative depictions of tropical landscapes.
Rousseau’s jungle paintings remain iconic and are celebrated for their ability to transport viewers into a world of enchanting and mysterious beauty. Highlights include The Dream, Tiger in a Tropical Storm, The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, The Equatorial Jungle, and The Repast of the Lion.