Eye Candy for Today: Henri Rousseau’s Carnival Evening

Carnival Evening, Henri Rousseau
Carnival Evening, Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau

Zoomable image on Google Art Project; high-res file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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.


5 Replies to “Eye Candy for Today: Henri Rousseau’s Carnival Evening

  1. It’ s carnival, the evening without rules, where nothing makes sense. I find the oddities very convincing ,even if they aren’t used on purpose. The painting itself reminds me of the style of Valerius De Saedeleer, a Flemish painter. Thank you

  2. This one is formative to me. I was first captivated by this painting in an art history book I was given as a very little girl; possibly about four years old or so. My mind was blown the first time I visited the Museum and I saw it in person! I still pay it a visit every time I’m at the PMoA (along with Charlemont’s “The Moorish Chief”, and Joan Miró’s “Dog Barking at the Moon,” which all may have just so happened to be in that very same art history book). I still love this painting, and I’m in my 40’s now. It’s like an old friend. Thank you for this post. Actually, thank you for this blog in general, I look forward to every new entry.

Comments are closed.