Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

1897. Oil on canvas, 51" x 6' 7" (129.5 x 200.7 cm). Gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim

Here is a link to the Museum of Modern Art's short biography of Rousseau and explication of his painting: www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=80172

I have loved this painting ever since my best friend from high school and I visited New York as college freshmen and saw the actual painting at MOMA (the Museum of Modern Art). I even wrote a cheesy sonnet about it when I was a sophomore in college--I'll spare you that lovely work of art.

This painting, for me, illustrates an ideal life of freedom, whimsical wonderlust, music and open spaces. At first, I believed the lion to be the gypsy's pet--standing guard over her while she sleeps, but now I'm not so sure. Perhaps he's a dangerous animal who has stopped to inspect the gypsy--and her carefree attitude somehow protects her from what might be dangerous during the daytime.

The primitive colors and the flat shapes underscore the simplicity of the painting and the gypsy's life. She has all she needs: walking stick, pillow, jug of water (or wine?) and the moonlight. In her painting, human meets animal; sky meets sand and mountain; sleep meets waking.

What do you think of the painting? (FYI: it was also featured in a Simpson's episode where Bart wakes up in the painting with the lion licking him.)

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