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Toledo Museum of Art showcases 20th-century modernist masterwork on loan from Musée d'Orsay in Paris
Henri Rousseau, dit Le Douanier Rousseau (1844-1910), La charmeuse de serpents, 1907. Oil on canvas, 167 x 189.5 cm. Paris, muse d’Orsay © RMN-Grand Palais (muse d’Orsay) / Herve Lewandowski.

TOLEDO, OH.- A masterpiece of the early 20th-century international avant-garde that rarely travels outside its museum’s walls in Paris will be installed at the Toledo Museum of Art this fall. The Snake Charmer (1907), considered one of the most significant paintings by legendary French artist Henri Rousseau, will be featured alongside related works of art from TMA’s renowned collection by artists profoundly impacted by Rousseau’s visionary style and concerns.

The focused exhibition, entitled The Snake Charmer and the French Avant-Garde and organized by Robin Reisenfeld, Ph.D., TMA’s works on paper curator, will be on view at the Museum Sept. 25 through Dec. 31, 2018. Admission is free.

“The Toledo Museum of Art frequently loans works of art from its collection to advance scholarship around the world,” said Brian Kennedy, TMA’s Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey director. “As part of a recent reciprocal agreement, TMA was able to bring this important and monumental canvas from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which allows our visitors to experience firsthand what an influential role Rousseau played in the development of 20th-century art and artists.”

The Snake Charmer, with its puzzling narrative and otherworldly mood, was mocked by critics but was an immediate hit among the young avant-garde artists of Paris when first exhibited in 1907. Commissioned by artist Robert Delaunay’s mother, Berthe “Comtesse” de Delaunay, the painting features a mysterious figure standing quietly in a lush jungle as she charms a transfixed snake. The subject was supposedly based on stories of the Comtesse’s experiences in the West Indies.

Among the key works of art from TMA’s holdings surrounding the visiting Rousseau canvas in the installation will be Delaunay’s The City of Paris of 1911, a kaleidoscopic burst of light and color representing the Three Graces from Greek mythology adjacent to the Eiffel Tower in the artist’s own variant of Cubism. A painting by Paul Gauguin and works on paper by Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Joan Miró round out the exhibition, highlighting the close relationships and vibrant international exchange among these leading artists.

“Rousseau served as a lynchpin for many pioneering modernist artists, including Delaunay, Kandinsky and Picasso, who all recognized in his bold and highly original paintings validation for their own pioneering approaches,” said Reisenfeld. “Artists interested in creative experimentation at the time were particularly drawn to Rousseau’s poetic vision and untutored stylistic approach.”

Self-taught, Rousseau (1844-1910) worked as a customs agent on the outskirts of Paris (he was famously nicknamed “Le Douanier Rousseau”) and was known especially for his depictions of dreamlike jungles filled with plant and animal life. These highly detailed, imaginary scenes were informed not by any firsthand experiences of exotic locations, but by the artist’s frequent visits to the Paris zoo and botanical gardens and from illustrated magazines.

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