Carnival Evening, Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau
When I was younger, I had a poster of this painting on my apartment wall, and I still enjoy its presence here in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Rousseau is often considered a “naive” artist — lacking the benefit of formal training — but sometimes that character, plus Rousseau’s unique personal vision, are what make his work powerful.
This picture, for example, makes no sense. Given the position of the full moon, none of the lighting would be as it is portrayed: not the bright clouds — particularly those near the ground with their orange glow — not the little dark cloud attended by two preternaturally bright ones, not the dark ground or the oddly lit couple in their carnival costumes, who seem lit as though from a daytime scene.
Also odd is the strange face peering out from what might be an oval window, or perhaps a mirror, on the side of the gazebo, or the strangely placed lamp above the corner of the roof.
Somehow, all of the nonsensical elements work together in Rousseau’s strangely innocent kind of magic realism, to make a painting that likewise has a magical charm.