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Completed by Henri Rousseau in 1886, The Carnival Evening shows two figures dressed in carnival outfits. The man is dressed as a clown and the woman wears a dress and a conical hat. Their faces are difficult to make out.
However, despite being dressed for a party, they are downcast and hold each other close. The figures are very bright, especially against the backdrop of a gloomy forest all around them. The couple shine from within, rather than being illuminated by the light of the moon. The sky is indigo, with a moon and a layer of grey clouds beneath.
An air of mystery pervades the wintry forest landscape in this painting. A mysterious face peers out from the empty gazebo beside the couple, and a seemingly out of place street lamp glows nearby. The Carnival Evening painting with which Rousseau made his debut at the Salon des Indépendants, was a masterpiece of its kind and set a strong precedence for the artist.
Typical of naïve art, everything in this oil on canvas is illustrated literally. Every branch of every tree is traced, the clouds have a curious solidness, and greater attention has been paid to the details on the costumes than to the people themselves. The design of Rousseau’s painting was achieved through its striking atmosphere and mood. The accurate and sensitive observation of the colours of the evening made for a highly poetic painting.
A departure from Rousseau's usual jungle scenes, many critics weren't sure how to interpret this painting. Although it featured strange characters in a dark and dreary setting, its unique appearance has made this one of the artist’s most famous pieces. Rousseau called this a portrait landscape because the portrait in the foreground is right on top of the landscape background.