A Rousseau painting is like escaping into an exotic dream: everything is familiar, yet oddly shifted away from what we know to be real. Rousseau was self-taught, and so his handling of perspective, color, and form is unique. It is these qualities that make The Sleeping Gypsy so charming. Its flatness creates calmness; its vivid palette gives it a childlike innocence; the figures of the lion and the gypsy are rendered like an illustration from a children’s book, capturing just a single moment in a story. In dreams, our sense of movement is often unnatural. We fall, fly, bound, and float, and even dream of being unable to move when we need to. In this painting we are dreaming of complete stillness.
The lion is alert, tail aloft, back legs bent as if ready to spring away. His eye is wide as he investigates the sleeping figure. The huge night sky above frames the tension between them. The gypsy is deeply asleep and unaware of the lion at her shoulder. She wears a serene smile as she lies in slumber, her lute and water jar put to one side. Her pastel clothing is luminous under the full moon. The brown lion is almost as big as she is, but we are not afraid. Instead, we are drawn into a perfect single moment where time is happening in slow motion.
In dreams we face our vulnerabilities as if we were children again. Rousseau’s Naïve art provides a way into this idea, and in The Sleeping Gypsy we are reminded that stillness and dreaming are important tools to help us make sense of the world. The only movement in this painting is the slow rise and fall of the gypsy’s chest, the soft flare of the lion’s nostrils, and the slow arcing of the moon across a vast sky. How many of us can remember how to pare ourselves down as much as that?
- Sarah Mills
P.S. Here are the amazing jungles of Henri Rousseau and if you don't have enough of Rousseau (and I think it's impossible!) check out our Weekly Desk DailyArt Calendar for 2021 where you will find Rousseau in one of the weeks. : ) We ship worldwide with DHL, find out more here. : )