Born in Laval, in the west of France, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) joined the army and then worked as a tax collector in the Paris Excise Office, hence his nickname of Douanier (customs officer). He began to paint in his free time, and from 1885 became a regular exhibitor at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris where painters like Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Odilon Redon (1840-1916) marvelled at the originality of his vision.
In 1893, he devoted himself completely to his art. Encouraged and supported by the poets and artists of the avant-garde, who saw this "Primitivist" as one of the fathers of Modernity in painting, he submitted three canvases to the Autumn Salon in 1905 alongside the "Fauves". Having also been acclaimed by the critics, he regarded the "banquet" held in his honour by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and his friends at the famous Bateau-Lavoir studio, in Montmartre, in November 1908, as the culmination of his artistic life.
Using photographs cut out of newspapers as a basis for his compositions, Henri Rousseau proclaimed himself a "Realist" painter, his apparent naïve style achieved, in his words, through "stubborn hard work". He painted portraits, urban scenes and large jungle scenes that became famous.
Paul Guillaume probably discovered the Douanier Rousseau’s paintings through his friend the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). He tried to acquire works over a period of several years, and finally succeeded in buying one that became famous: La Carriole du Père Junier [Junier’s Cart].