Collection Focus / The Peaceful Strangeness of Henri Rousseau’s Suburbs

3 April to 2 September 2019

The Peaceful Strangeness of Henri Rousseau’s Suburbs

From the 1890s onwards, suburbs and their dreary, semi-industrial settings of toil became a recurring literary and artistic theme. The trend grew as cities sprawled and as the labour and anarchist movement settled into these districts. The melancholic modernity of these suburbs was painted by artists like Jean-Charles Cazin, Maximilien Luce and Paul Signac, whose style of realism was poetic or political.
An oeuvre by Henri Rousseau, produced in 1897, portrayed a chair factory in Alfortville, a new town. In 1907, he painted the same subject, including its changes, on request from enthusiasts. Far from a bright view of the newly established modern world, yet free from nostalgia for a bucolic paradise lost, the customs officer Rousseau preferred depicting the ordinariness of places familiar to him.

La fabrique de chaises

Henri Rousseau dit Le Douanier (1844-1910), The Chair Factory, 1897
Huile sur toile. H. 38 ; L. 46 cm. Paris, musée de l'Orangerie © RMN-Grand Palais (musée de l'Orangerie) / Franck Raux

In a room used specially for focusing on the collections, the Musée de l’Orangerie gives prominence to these two paintings, shedding light on their place in the artist’s works, on some of the picture’s sources and on the interest they sparked in avant-gardism at the start of the twentieth century.