Unpleasant Surprise (Mauvaise surprise) 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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The Unpleasant Surprise Mauvaise Surprise was Henri's most controversial painting of all time. On the painting, he drew a man holding a gun on the left, a naked woman to the right and a bear right next to woman. At first glance, you would think the man is trying to rescue the woman.

But actually, the woman is less terrified of the bear that is next to her, but rather hides from the man with a gun, who we later learn is the unpleasant surprise. The idea you get from the artwork at first glance is quite conflicting from the name of the painting and the actual meaning of the painting.

It is believed that Henri gave the artwork the name "Unpleasant Surprise" because the woman who seemed to be under the bear's attack was surprised by the man's presence. Henri did this painting in 1901 using oil on canvas.

A Closer Look at The Unpleasant Surprise Painting

On the right side of Unpleasant Surprise Mauvaise Surprise painting is a naked woman with a great figure and a bear with long claws and jaws. On the left, a guy is pointing a gun at the bear, and the naked woman looks bigger than both of them. In the background, there's a water body, a tree, rocks, and a colourful sky. The bear doesn't seem to be attacking the woman; instead, it seems the naked woman views the man as the 'an unpleasant surprise.' But according to Henri, the man rescues the naked-distressed lady with dirty palms from the sharp-clawed bear.

The Art Style Used in Unpleasant Surprise Painting

The unpleasant surprise painting is one of Henri's art pieces where he uses the large-scale jungle scene's themes and his famous naïve (primitivism) art style. He also maintains his childlike simplicity style while doing this painting, where the artwork doesn't represent the story's real meaning.

Interpretation of the Unpleasant Surprise Mauvaise surprise Painting

Scholars who've seen the original painting's three dimensional representation say the man isn't trying to shoot the bear but rather the ground in front of the naked woman. The man does this to warn her not to approach him. Despite the naked woman having a beautiful body shape, she has a masculine face, and the edge of her right hair strand resembles a snake's head. The naked woman also seems to be coming from the paradisiac lake in the background. Her facial expression also doesn't look frightened but either sad, disappointed, or unnerved. Most interpretations say that the bear doesn't seem to be attacking the woman, and the man is also not targeting the bear with the gun.