The Sleeping Gypsy, or in its original French name La Bohmienne Endormie, was painted by prominent artist, Henri Rousseau in 1897.
Henri Rousseau, known as “Le Douanier” after his career as a toll collector for the city of Paris, was the most famous champion of Outsider Art, that is, paintings produced ‘outside’ the established art world.
He began educating himself on how to paint from the age of 40. Within two years he was a formal exhibitor at the annual Salon des Independants in Paris, and at the age of 49, he took early retirement to become a full-time painter. Naive and inexperienced, Rousseau developed his own extraordinary style of modern art – a surrealistic blend of primitivism and genuine fantasy.
One of his masterpieces was “The Sleeping Gypsy” which measures around 200.7cm×129.5cm.
This unique oil painting displays the image of a woman asleep on the wasteland sand with a mandolin at her side and a walking stick gripped in her hand.
The lion posing behind her appears curious, not wanting to wake her but spellbind by her posture. The traveler’s body position implies weariness, but the expression on her face is one of content – a tired soul taking solace in the serenity of the land.
The silhouettes within The Sleeping Gypsy are smashing with illusory tints that induce the scene dream-like.
The bluish moon radiates the portrait and draws about a sense of peace and harmony between the two subjects – animal and human.
In a letter wherein Henri Rousseau illustrated his incredible creation, the artist noted, A wandering Negress, a mandolin player, lies with her jar beside her, overcome by fatigue in a deep sleep. A lion by some chance passes by picking up her scent yet does not devour her.
There is a moonlight impact, very lyrical. The scene is put in a completely barren desert. The gypsy is outfitted in oriental costume.
The masterpiece is famous for its contours precise, its hue crystalline, its lines, surfaces, and tones carefully rhymed. Rousseau plays delicately with the glow on the lion’s body. The painting exhibited modernist echoes: the flattened shapes and perspectives, the freedom of color and style, the subordination of rational portrayal of ingenuity and invention.
The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau is currently located at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA.
Sadly, it was not until after his death that Rousseau earned high praise from the public for his many artworks.