Henri Rousseau, 1908 and after : the corpus, criticism, and history of a painter without a problem




Haskell, Caitlin Welsh

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This dissertation considers Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) as a painter and as a figure of discourse. It addresses the longstanding concern of Rousseau’s resistance to interpretation and proposes that this derives from Rousseau’s incomplete fulfillment of the professional obligations of the artist, specifically, from his failure to motivate his work through the pursuit of what modern art critics commonly called “a problem.” Rousseau did not practice painting as artists of his day did, and because of this difference—first articulated by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1908 as an absence of artistic inquiétude—he entered the discourse of art with unprecedented susceptibility to reinvention. The Rousseau we know today, the Rousseau who was a miraculous modernist in the interwar period, and the Rousseau who emerged in the context of the avant-garde in the earliest years of the twentieth century share little besides a name, and this frustrates any effort to write a coherent history of the painter and his pictures. Rather than propose once again Rousseau’s recuperation into a traditional art-historical narrative, this dissertation tells the history of a maker who produced admirable images but fulfilled few other author-functions, and it tells the history of writers who, compensating for Rousseau’s authorial deficits, produced a new artist, a new body of work, and widespread puzzlement about the place of each in the history of modern art.




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