This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 21, 2017: Observations of an OB/GYN Nurse

May 21, 2017: birthday: Henri Rousseau

It is the birthday of French painter Henri Rousseauborn in Laval, France (1844). Rousseau was a mediocre student, but excelled at drawing and music. He worked for a lawyer, served in the army for four years, and eventually went to work for the government as a tax collector. He married twice and had six children, only one of whom survived. He didn’t start painting until he was in his early 40s, and he retired at age 49 to work on painting full time.

He often painted primitive-style jungle scenes, and his work was misunderstood and ridiculed in his lifetime, although he had an admirer in Picasso. In the fall of 1908, Picasso was strolling down the rue de Martyrs in Montmartre when he noticed a portrait of a woman among a stack of canvases for sale outside a junk shop. The proprietor told Picasso that the canvas could be painted over and reused. But Picasso knew the work was a Rousseau and purchased it. He told a friend that the portrait of a woman “took hold of me with the force of obsession. … It is one of the most psychologically truthful of all French portraits.” Picasso even held a party a few weeks later to celebrate his acquisition of the Rousseau and one of Picasso’s friends wrote a song for the occasion.