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History, Style And Analysis Of The Dream Rousseau Painting

Updated: Apr 27

The Dream Rousseau Painting
The Dream | Source:

Imagine you are camping in the wild forests, where the river water shimmers light as it reflects the soft and radiant moonlight. The dark tree trunks contrast with the green clump of bushes, which is home to few animals. While you enjoy the night sightseeing from your camping bag window, you hear the wind piercing the leaves and the creaking sound of the tree branches. The rich earthen smell from the forests is still over your senses, bringing the comfort you always wanted. While you imagine being in this forest, I wanted to confess that I have already been in this one in my dreams. These dreams are easy-going experiences that sometimes feel our mornings with good spirits. We often do not take them into our attention as they are a gift of our subconscious mind. Albeit many artists drew dreams on their canvas, one such painter who painted forests as a significant subject is Henri Rousseau and the painting we are here to scrutinize and study is The Dream Rousseau Painting.

French painter Henri Rousseau
Henri Rousseau | Source:

As always, we will start by learning briefly about his life history.

About The Artist: Who Was Henri Rousseau?

Born on 21 May 1844, Henri Rousseau was a French post-impressionist painter in a primitive manner. He started painting in his late 40s at the age of 49 after he left his full-time job to dedicate his remaining life to art. Rousseau was a self-learnt artist, ridiculed by art critiques lifetime. A member of petit bourgeois, he championed the politics of fraternity and declared himself a patron of Fraforest-inspirednce, which he often displayed in his paintings.

His first exhibition was held in 1891, and he received his first serious art review after presenting Tiger in the tropical storm (Surprised).

Henri Rousseau holding a brush and sitting around his forest inspired artworks
Henri Rousseau with his forest inspired artworks | Source: Dornac, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As we learn about his life, we can proceed to the composition history, which includes its timing and other pertinent details.

History Of The Dream By Henri Rousseau.

Even though the artwork belonged to the era after post-impressionism, it consisted of the same style. It also displays naive art or primitivism alongside. Not to confuse you, earlier in this article, I briefed you about post-impressionism. But don't worry, we will cover it again.

What Is Post-Impressionism?

It is a French art movement that developed from the last Impressionist exhibition to the birth of Fauvism. This kind of art is an extended version of impressionism while rejecting its limitations. The use of impasto is usual here, along with the introduction of geometry and the use of unnatural colours.

While naive art often imitates itself for its childlike simplicity and frankness. It depicts the form of outsider art who had little formal training or degree. In the early 20th century, Rousseau was an influential naive artist who Picasso discovered.

The Art Exhibition.

Once you know the painting's background, it is essential to know that he held the artwork exhibition between 18 March and 1 May 1910. In the September of the same year, he passed away, making The Dream one of the last paintings of his career and life.

Let us move forward to the meaning of The Dream Rousseau painting in the artist's words.

Meaning Of The Dream Rousseau Painting.

Before analyzing the terrific artwork, I would like you to read a few lines about the composition,

"Yadwigha dans un beau rêve
S'étant endormie doucement
Entendait les sons d'une musette
Dont jouait un charmeur bien pensant.
Pendant que la lune reflète
Sur les fleuves [or fleurs], les arbres verdoyants,
Les fauves serpents prêtent l'oreille
Aux airs gais de l'instrument".

which means,

"Yadwigha in a beautiful dream
Having fallen gently to sleep
Heard the sounds of a reed instrument
Played by a well-intentioned [snake] charmer.
As the moon reflected
On the rivers [or flowers], the verdant trees,
The wild snakes lend an ear
To the joyous tunes of the instrument".

In addition, Sylvia Plath, a renowned American poet, accompanied the presence of his artwork through her poem saying,

"Yadwigha... Hearing flutes, you
Dreamed yourself away in the moon's eye
To a beryl jungle, and dreamed that bright moon-lilies
Nodded their petaled heads around your couch".

When we read these beautiful lines displaying and introducing you to the artwork, it is easy to understand the analysis of the entire artwork. Let us move on to the most awaited section of the article, which you already know.

Formal Analysis of Henri Rousseau The Dream.


Henri Julien Félix Rousseau

Year Painted



Oil on canvas


Post-Impressionism and Primitivism


204.5 cm × 298.5 cm


Priceless, Not on sale

Where is it house?

Museum of Modern Art, New York City

The main subject of the painting is Yadwinga, who was the artist's mistress. In the middle of a forest, a light-skinned, voluptuous, and round-breasted woman in naked form lies on a couch, reclining through her body curves. Wild animals surround her while a native musician with a black face plays music. While she gazes around the landscape around her, there are animals like elephants, lions, lionesses, birds and monkeys. A pink serpent enters from the bottom, echoing the curves of the lady.

Henri Rousseau The Dream
The Dream by Henri Rousseau | Source: MoMA

The piper musician soothes the environment through their music. Look closely at the lion and lioness's expressions, the female stares at the woman, while the moody male gazes outward. In the background, the branches of the trees have oranges, and a full white moon in the blue sky completes the artwork. All the creatures show a peace-loving and harmonical environment around the lady.

The Dream Rousseau painting depicts the dream in a great way, as the nude lady rests on a couch in the middle of the forest.

An art critic Guillaume Apollinaire said,

"The picture radiates beauty, that is indisputable. I believe nobody will laugh this year."

Despite the couch's negative reviews from critics, when viewed in conjunction with the forest, it looks great. This juxtaposition intrigues the mind and creates a distinct and unique idea of combing elements.

Now that we have covered the fun part, which was nothing but the analysis, let us move on to the colour usage here, which is most interesting.

Colour Analysis Of The Dream By Henri Rousseau.

The most challenging part is studying colours in this composition, which contains hundreds of shades.

You might be surprised that there are at least 22 shades of green showcasing the jungle foliage.

The usage of bright orange, yellow, and blue comes from fruits and flowers. In addition, there is clear white colour of the moon in a light shade of blue. The artwork candidly resembles the tranquillity and peace of the environment through its colours. The yellowish colours for lions with the dark theme from the colour black also contrast expertly with the green colour of the forest. The overall picture compliments the colour usage here.

Moving on further, let us check the sales of the artwork.

Art Sale.

The Dream Rousseau painting was originally sold to Ambroise Vollard in February 1910. Sidney Janis, a clothing manufacturer and art collector, purchased it through Knoedler Galleries in New York in January 1934.

To celebrate the Museum's 25th anniversary, Janis sold the painting to Nelson A. Rockefeller in 1954. The piece is still on display at MoMA.


Henri Rousseau was definitely a modernist painter with an epic usage of colour shades that Picasso discovered. Although he was sharply criticized by many throughout his life, he was a genius for his naive art form.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who painted the dream?

Henri Rousseau, a french post-impressionist painter painted The Dream. He depicted a scene where her mistress, Yadwinga is resting on a couch in mid of a forest landscape.

Why did Henri Rousseau paint the dream?

One of Rousseau's twenty-five jungle paintings, The Dream, was based on his experiences during the early 1860s when he was a member of Napoleon III's expedition to Mexico to help Emperor Maximilian. In addition, it is a simple dream of his mistress Yadwinga.

Where Did Henri Rousseau paint the dream?

It was painted roughly in the year 1910 in February, before he kept an exhibition of the composition between 18 March to 1 May 1910.

What is the theme of the dream by Henri Rousseau?

The Dream by Henri Rousseau is based on the dream, the artist's mistress Yadwinga saw.

What art movement is the dream?

Post Impressionism and primitivism.

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