Henri Julien Félix Rousseau, born on May 21, 1844, in Laval, France, was a French post-impressionist painter known for his work in the Naïve or Primitive manner. He was also known as Le Douanier, a humorous description of his occupation as a toll and tax collector. He started painting seriously in his early forties and by age 49, he retired from his job to work on his art full-time. Despite being ridiculed during his lifetime by critics, he came to be recognized as a self-taught genius whose works are of high artistic quality.

Rousseau’s work exerted an extensive influence on several generations of avant-garde artists. His richly colored and meticulously detailed pictures of lush jungles, wild beasts, and exotic figures became the archetype of the modern naive artist. His style was hugely influential on the next generation of avant-garde artists, such as Picasso, Fernand Leger, Max Beckmann, and the whole surrealist movement. His use of color was idiosyncratic and he was incapable of painting feet. In 1905, his painting “The Hungry Lion” was presented to the public at the Salon d’Automne, an annual alternative to the official Salon of Paris, alongside violently colorful new works by a group of artists including Matisse and Derain. This exhibition marked the birth of the Fauves, or wild beasts, a term coined by a critic shocked by the intensity of their paintings. Rousseau’s work, with its cartoonish depictions of wild animals in a jungle landscape, is considered his greatest legacy and continues to influence contemporary art.