It was at the end of November 1908 that a banquet was held in Picasso’s workshop at the Bateau-Lavoir in honor of Douanier Rousseau. Picasso had previously bought a large portrait of Douanier Rousseau’s wife at a bric-a-brac shop. He tells then “The first work of Douanier Rousseau that I had the opportunity to acquire was born in me with an obsessive power … It is one of the most true French psychological portraits.
Thanks to the American painter Max Weber, Picasso got to know the painter and he decided to give a big banquet in honor of the painter and his purchase: the workshop had been decorated, the painting installed in good place, the Catered guest, guest friends and a throne had been improvised with a “Honor to Rousseau” banner.
One can read the detailed account of the evening in the memories of Fernande Olivier “Souvenirs intimes” and in the book of Maurice Raynal “Les soirées de Paris”. Henri Rousseau was certainly intimidated by this event, it was Apollinaire who would have convinced him to participate because he did not frequent the artists of Bateau-Lavoir. But Rousseau also appreciated the work of Picasso, to whom this famous formula of Douanier Rousseau addressed himself: “We are the two greatest painters of the time, you in the Egyptian genre, I in the modern genre”. It was Apollinaire who convinced him to participate because he did not frequent the artists of the Bateau-Lavoir. But Rousseau also appreciated the work of Picasso, to whom this famous formula of Douanier Rousseau addressed himself: “We are the two greatest painters of the time, you in the Egyptian genre, I in the modern genre”. It was Apollinaire who convinced him to participate because he did not frequent the artists of the Bateau-Lavoir. But Rousseau also appreciated the work of Picasso, to whom this famous formula of Douanier Rousseau addressed himself: “We are the two greatest painters of the time, you in the Egyptian genre, I in the modern genre”.
The BANQUET FOR ROSSEAU
At the Bateau Lavoir, Monmartre PARIS France
When Pablo Picasso happened upon a painting by Rousseau being sold on the street as a canvas to be painted over, the younger artist instantly recognised Rousseau’s genius and went to meet him. In 1908, Picasso held a half serious, half burlesque banquet in his studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Rousseau’s honour. Le Banquet Rousseau, “one of the most notable social events of the twentieth century,” wrote American poet and literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, “was neither an orgiastic occasion nor even an opulent one. Its subsequent fame grew from the fact that it was a colorful happening within a revolutionary art movement at a point of that movement’s earliest success, and from the fact that it was attended by individuals whose separate influences radiated like spokes of creative light across the art world for generations.”
Guests at the banquet Rousseau included: Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Metzinger, Juan Gris, Max Jacob, Marie Laurencin, André Salmon, Maurice Raynal, Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, Leo Stein, and Gertrude Stein.
Maurice Raynal, in Les Soires de Paris, January 15, 1914, p. 69, wrote about “Le Banquet Rousseau”. Years later the French writer André Salmon recalled the setting of the illustrious banquet:
- “Here the nights of the Blue Period passed… here the days of the Rose Period flowered… here the Demoiselles d’Avignon halted in their dance to re-group themselves in accordance with the golden number and the secret of the fourth dimension… here fraternized the poets elevated by serious criticism into the School of the Rue Ravignan… here in these shadowy corridors lived the true worshippers of fire … here one evening in the year 1908 unrolled the pageantry of the first and last banquet offered by his admirers to the painter Henri Rousseau called the Douanier.
Pablo Picasso with unknown wife Jacqueline with some of Pablo’s collected works, Rosseau, Braque, Matisse, Cezanne, ….
Everyone thought it was hilarious when the old painter made his heartfelt declaration – the punchline to an evening of mockery. “You and I,” said Henri Rousseau, sincerely addressing his host Pablo Picasso, “are the two most important artists of the age – you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one.” Picasso would laugh at the memory along with everyone else. The banquet he gave one wild night in 1908 for the untrained artist nicknamed the Douanier (customs officer) because he had worked much of his life on the toll gates and river duty stations of Paris was nothing but a blague, Picasso would claim, absolutely a blague (joke).
To this day, art critics don’t know what to make of the story. Visit the Musée Picasso and you will see the Rousseau’s Picasso owned, including a portrait of a big woman standing grandly by a curtain, along with the masterpieces Picasso collected by Degas, Cézanne, Matisse, and his masks from West Africa and the New Hebrides. What did he owe this Sunday painter of fantasy rainforests, to whom this season’s big Tate Modern show is dedicated? Why did Picasso throw Rousseau a banquet?
The DREAM ROUSSEAU
The Bateau Lavoir
Picture of HENRI ROUSSEAU
Seine and Eiffel Tower
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