Henri Rousseau’s Carnival Evening has been patiently waiting in my media files for me to do something with it. The painting is also hanging in Gallery 164 (European Art 1850 – 1900) on the first floor of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Here is what Christopher Riopelle from the museum has to say about Carnival Evening:
Known for his fantastic scenes, Rousseau was a self-taught artist whose works appealed to the collectors and avant-garde artists of the early twentieth century, including Pablo Picasso.
First shown in the second Salon des Indépendants in Paris in 1886, this painting is an early demonstration of Henri Rousseau’s unique chromatic imagination, his proto-Surrealist ability to juggle unexpected pictorial elements, and his untutored but brilliant skill in the stylization of forms. An officer in the French customs service, Rousseau scoured picture books of adventures in exotic locales in search of pictorial motifs.
Here Rousseau locates mute, unmoving figures in carnival costume against a calligraphic backdrop of bare black tree trunks and branches. The dwindling light of dusk that filters down through the trees and the crisp winter chill, vividly evoked, both carry a hint of menace.
An air of mystery pervades this wintry forest landscape. Dressed in festive carnival costumes, a lone couple stands in front of barren trees. The figures seem to shine from within rather than from the light of the moon, which has strangely left the forest in darkness. An unexplained face leers out from the empty hut beside the figures, and an unexpected street lamp incongruously glows nearby.
Isolated and vulnerable in their fantasy clothing, the two figures confront the viewer bravely and with naïve conviction, like characters waiting for Samuel Beckett to write them a play.
NOTE: I see the streetlamp but do not see the unexplained leering face. And until I do, I may not have to add anything to this post beyond what Christopher has already written.