PHILIPPE ROUSSEAU (Paris 1816 – Acquigny 1887)
A Sleeping Dog
black ink on cream paper stamped Paris
2 x 4 ½ inches (5.1 x 11.5 cm.)
Galerie Talabardon et Gautier, Paris
Private Collection, Paris
Philippe Rousseau was regarded as one of the most popular artists of his day. A painter of animals and still lifes, he is best known for combining both in large formats with anecdotal elements and by doing so carved out a unique niche for himself in nineteenth century French painting. It was a period when animal imagery proved vastly popular, inspiring not only painters but sculptors, poets and musicians alike. He began his studies at the École des Beaux Arts under the tutelage of Antoine-Jean Baron Gros and Victor Bertin. He first exhibited at the Salon in 1834 and was awarded medals in 1845, 1848, 1855 and 1878. In 1852 he was admitted into the Légion d’honneur and in 1870 made an officer. In 1850 Rousseau was awarded his first state commission whose parameters were a work featuring a dog and cats. Titled Un Importun (An Intruder), which depicted a cat protecting her kittens from a dog, it was well received and is now in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. More state commissions followed and Rousseau’s prices began to soar to the point where in 1867 he turned down an order from the state for monetary reasons. His clientele list was stellar and he built his reputation on individuals close to the Imperial Court. In 1859 he produced seven works after the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine for a dining room in the Hôtel d’Albe, the remarkable house Empress Eugénie built for her sister the Duchess of Alva. Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, the cousin of Emperor Napoleon III, owned two works by Rousseau and also ordered her dining room to be decorated by the artist. In Jean de la Rochenoire’s review of the Exposition Universelle of 1855 he called Rousseau “le peintre de Monsieur Rothschild”, a reference to the work done for both James Baron de Rothschild and Charlotte Baroness Nathanaël de Rothschild. Other luminary clients included the writer Alexandre Dumas, the founder Ferdinand Barbedienne, and the actress Madame Arnoult-Plessy.
In 1847 for the Haagse Tentoonstelling van Levende Meesters Rousseau introduced a new theme to his repertoire – A Mother Hen with her Chicks – the same theme subsequently used in Basse-Cour winner of a first-class medal in the Salon of 1848. From then on the theme of a mother and her brood became a mainstay in Rousseau’s output employing a variety of animals that were viewed in farmyards or kitchen interiors. The impetus behind such scenes stemmed from the incorporation of subjects commonly found in seventeenth century Dutch paintings combined with the rediscovery in 1846 of Jean-Baptiste Chardin’s still lifes (due to the publication of the first scholarly book devoted to the artist by Pierre Hédouin) that embraced humble objects.
A lesser-known drawing, A Sleeping Dog displays Rousseau’s knack for capturing animals in a small sketch format. The dog – of indeterminate breed – appears curled up on the ground, its head resting on its forelegs. That Rousseau was able to suggest this form with such an economic contour line drawing is a testament to his talent as a draftsman. The drawing was likely part of a larger composition of sketches, suggested by the text printed perpendicular to the dog’s head: PARIS. –––. However, it has since been separated and framed as a standalone study.
The Dutch in particular have always championed Philippe Rousseau’s art and all of the works now in museums in Holland were purchased in the twentieth century. They include the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; Stedelijk Museum, Gouda; Groningen Museum, Groningen; Haags Gemeentemuseum and Museum Mesdag in The Hague; Rijksmuseum Kröller-Muller, Otterlo; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; and the Centraal Museum, Utrecht. In 1993 as part of their series on 19th - Century Masters, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam mounted an exhibition dedicated solely to the work of Philippe Rousseau (see Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit.). Other outstanding collections in which Rousseau’s work can be found include the museums of Beauvais; Cleveland; Dresden; National Gallery, London; Louviers; Lyon; Nantes; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Philadelphia; Reims; Rouen; Hermitage, Saint Petersburg; Warsaw, and Salt Lake City, Utah, among others.
 Elizabeth Hardouin-Fugier & Etienne Grafe, op.cit., p. 347.
 Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit., pp. 8, 20.
 Biographical information taken from Ernest Glaeser, op.cit., p. 678; Emile Bellier de la Chavignerie & Louis Auvray, op.cit., p. 431; John Denison Champlin, Jr. & Charles C. Perkins, op. cit., p. 78; and Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit., pp. 13, 23-24, 27, 30.
 Ronald de Leeuw, op. cit., pp. 11, 35.
 Ibid, p. 62.