Pierre Loti Henri Rousseau Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Henri Rousseau created the Portrait of Pierre Loti in 1891. The painting features a man with a black moustache, wearing a red hat and smoking cigarette, and in front of him, there is a strange-looking cat. Although the cat looks strange, it seems like it was supposed to mimic a striped tabby cat.

But, in this painting, Rousseau seems not to have well expressed the anatomy of a tabby striped cat. The cat looks more or less like a piece of pottery. The cat has ear furnishings that are seen to be sticking out of its forehead. The inside of the ears are unnaturally very light and looks like Rousseau wanted to mirror the colour and shape of Loti's collar.

Pierre Loti was a naval officer as well as a French novelist. Loti was a false name, and his actual name was Julien Viaud. His friends nicknamed him Loti, an Indian flower because of his shyness character. His love for cats is what made Rousseau paint him with a cat. Loti wrote about cats frequently and used to insert references to cats within his books in different subjects. Rousseau made the portrait after the publishing of Loti's book Au Maroc, which he wrote after coming back to France from his tour in Morocco, and maybe this is the reason why Rousseau painted him wearing a Moroccan hat.

The portrait is a post-impressionist painting, created using oil paint on a canvas paper. Rousseau used native art or primitivism style of artwork. His technique of painting may suggest why he did not improve on his painting technique, despite criticism to create more natural depictions that would have been more acceptable in all pieces of his artistic works.

Rousseau claimed he was a self-taught artist and nature was his only teacher. He was considered to be so naïve and a primitive painter. At some point, he admitted to having received some advice from his two friends who were well established in the academic style of painting during his times, Jean Gerome and Felix Clement. During his painting lifetime, Rousseau may have received ridicules, but today he is considered as a self-genius whose artistic works were of high quality.

His artwork became an inspiration for the present-day animated film 'Madagascar'. He also influenced the surrealism style used by Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Alfred Sisley, Max Beckmann and Jean Metzinger in their paintings. The Portrait of Pierre Loti by Henri Rousseau lives at the Kunsthaus Zürich in Switzerland.