Monday, May 13, 2013


I don't know much about the painter Henri Rousseau. When I was a young man I recall a period when I was fascinated by his "jungle" pictures, all that promiscuous tropical vegetation with their heart of darkness, especially "Virgin Forest With Setting Sun" (click to enlarge). There was something fiercely sensual about those paintings. The scarlet disk of the sun. The jaguar and its shadow locked in combat. The bed of cacti, daubed with blood. The gargantuan pink and yellow blossoms like a Greek chorus, wailing warning.

Does that sound over the top? Hyperbolic? Well, I guess you had to be there, in that 1950-60s stew of burgeoning nature and Catholic guilt, passion and restraint.

Those paintings don't particularly interest me now. Rather, I'm drawn toward another of Rousseau's works, "Carnival Evening."

Everything here is in perfect opposition to "Virgin Forest." The human figures, male and female, in cool repose, celebratory but demur. The summer house, dark and empty. The scrim of bare trees, faintly misted with the palest shade of red. A backdrop of cloud and stars. The moon, distant and circumspect. One black cloud, perhaps, but every life must have a hint of discontent.

Yes. This suits me now. I know; it looks like a Christmas card, but I like it. This universe of blue and gray, of backlit clouds and the faintest promise of passion. A cosmos, saturated from the first day of creation with inevitability. All the world's a stage and our little life is rounded with a sleep.