Return of the falconer signed 'Henri Rousseau' (lower right) oil on canvas 50.8 x 43.18cm (20 x 17in).
PROVENANCE: From the artist's family With Galerie de l'Europe, France Purchased from the above by present owner
Few Orientalist artists of the 19th Century could claim a viable birth right to the genre they perpetuated; Henri Emilien Rousseau, a French painter born in Cairo, was the exception. The son of a distinguished member of the Ottoman public works administration, Rousseau split his childhood between North Africa and France. Opportunity afforded him the chance to live in Paris where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and trained under the great Orientalist painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme. It was this education combined with his already strong ties to the Orient that led Rousseau to repeatedly visit North Africa after 1901 and begin to adopt a style of painting far removed from that of his influential teacher and more in line with the energized aesthetic of the Impressionists.
Passionate about portraying the reality rather than the romance of Bedouin life, Rousseau spent the years between 1920 and 1932 in intense study of nomadic culture and visiting the Rif and Atlas mountains of Morocco. By befriending Caïds, or tribal chiefs, Rousseau was granted access to various regions which were otherwise off limits to outsiders, and gained a unique perspective to his work distinct from that of his more imaginative peers. Perhaps it was here where he fell under the spell of the Bedouin horsemen, a subject Rousseau was already familiar with, and would come to characterize his Orientalist compositions. In 1927, the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris saw the exhibition of more than eighty Moroccan works by Rousseau which was met with enormous success. This was followed by an exhibition at the Exposition Universelle, held in 1931.
In this present work, The return of the falconer, Rousseau illustrates a favorite subject of his, the horseman and his hunting bird, which he returned to again and again. More noble than fanciful, the villagers become figures of truth set against the indigenous desert landscape Rousseau was unwilling to romanticize, whether his subjects were quietly reflective, as in this work, or bearing a standard. Yet try as he might to subdue the exotic, there is no escaping the majesty and appeal of falconry in Rousseau's art.
The earliest accounts of falconry date back to approximately 2000 BC with its beginnings believed to be in Mesopotamia or China and Mongolia. Historically, due to its requirements of time, money and space, the sport of falconry was a popular status symbol among the nobles of Medieval Europe, East Asia and the Middle East. Yet, with nomadic societies like the Bedouin, falconry was less recreational than a means of survival. Falcons were trapped and hunted on small game during the winter months to supplement the limited diet of desert living. Through Rousseau's continual depiction of falcons and the desert horsemen dependent on them, the sport becomes a motif for the ingenuity and strength of a people often depicted as carefree and sensuous.