Related themes


Modern Landscapes

Discover groundbreaking techniques in early modern landscape paintings.


The Dream

Henri Rousseau
(French, 1844–1910)

1910. Oil on canvas, 6' 8 1/2" x 9' 9 1/2" (204.5 x 298.5 cm)

Entirely self-taught, Henri Rousseau worked a day job as a customs inspector until, around 1885, he retired on a tiny pension to pursue a career as an artist. Without leaving his native France, he made numerous paintings of fantastical jungle landscapes, like the one that fills The Dream.

Living in Paris, he had ready access to images of faraway people and places through popular literature, world expositions, museums, and the Paris Zoo. His visits to the city’s natural history museum and to Jardin des plantes (a combined zoo and botanical garden) inspired the lush jungle, wild animals, and mysterious horn player featured in The Dream. “When I am in these hothouses and see the strange plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am entering a dream,” he once said.

The nude woman reclining on a sofa seems to have been lifted from a Paris living room and grafted into this moonlit jungle scene. Her incongruous presence heightens its dreamlike quality and suggests that perhaps the jungle is a projection of her mind, much as it is a projection of Rousseau’s imagination.

Henri Rousseau, quoted in Daniel Catton Rich, Henri Rousseau (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1942), 69.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

The natural landforms of a region; also, an image that has natural scenery as its primary focus.

In the Artist’s Own Words
Rousseau attached a poem to The Dream, in which he describes the scene, calling the reclining woman “Yadwigha”:

Yadwigha in a lovely dream,
Having most sweetly gone to sleep,
Heard the snake-charmer blow his flute,
Breathing his meditation deep.
While on the streams and verdant trees
Gleam the reflections of the moon,
And savage serpents lend their ears
To the gay measures of the tune.1