The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau: What You See is What it Means

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau

A bizarre painting is The Sleeping Gypsy by the French painter Henri Rousseau. But this bizarreness of the painting also makes it captivating, and intriguing. The scene itself seems surrealistic. A lion is closely observing a sleeping black woman in a moonlight night in the middle of the desert. The flat two-dimensional perspective with no consideration for proportions adds to the surrealistic view. So what does this painting mean?

Well, there is no hidden meaning behind the painting. So if an art sleuth says that there is some profound hidden meaning behind this artwork, some sublime message indicative of the human’s imagination, or any socio-political imagery, you can ask him/her to shut up. To understand why this painting holds so hidden meaning, we need to know a little about the painter, Henri Rousseau, also called by the name ‘The Sunday Painter”.

Why Henri Rousseau was called the “Sunday Painter”

Henri Rousseau was a tax collector and he did even start painting until he was 40. To put that in perspective, Vincent Van Gogh did his last painting when he was 37. He was also called “La Douanier” which meant “the customs officer”. 

This late-blooming artist inside the normal, working-class individual was not greatly appreciated by the art critic. They called his works crass, unfinished, and amateur. But he did not care. For him, the painting was expressing what he imagined and what he wanted to express. 

His style of painting is said to be Primitive or Naïve, which means that the painter did not paint with a particle style. Which is expected since he did not receive any formal training. He painted whatever he wanted, however, he felt like. And this is what makes his paintings impressive. 

The Sleeping Gypsy: What it means

The meaning of this painting is exactly the same as the meaning of the combined meaning of your dreams in a week; nothing. There is no meaning behind this painting, at least any subliminal or hidden meaning. The painting is just a simple depiction of a spectacular scene. Something that you are very unlikely to see in real life.

The painting shows a large desert, the blue sky lit with a bright, full moon and a handful of stars. There is also a river in the middle of the scene, reflecting the moonlight. What’s fascinating is the two subjects of the painting. 

In the foreground, there is a gypsy woman, wearing colorful attire. She is sleeping on a rug that matches her dress. The instrument lying next to her is called the Cobza, also called the Romanian lute. The identifying feature is the bend on the neck. This instrument was very common in Egypt. But what about the other subject? 

The animal and the blind lady

The most striking thing about this painting is the presence of a lion, who is very intrigued by the sleeping gypsy. The beast looks calm and is looking at the woman closely. But there is no intention of eating or hurting the lady. But did you notice another thing in the painting that might reveal something more about the woman?

The woman, while sleeping, is holding a long stick. But why? It is because the woman is blind. A blind gypsy traveling alone in a desert with nothing but a jar of water, a lute, and a rug. Her blindness is also the reason why her eyes are not closed completely. 

Now if it was painted by any other artist, I would have tried diving deeper into this painting, finding hidden meanings and whatnot. But this painting is by Henri Rousseau. And what we know of his work is this; he painted images with no hidden meaning. What is saw is what it meant. So what does The Sleeping Gypsy mean? 

Well, the painting is a fantastic scene, depicting an unbelievable and dreamlike image. A lion in the middle of a desert on a moonlit night, curiously examining a gypsy woman who is probably blind and sleeping. This entire scene is painting in the amateurish yet idiosyncratic style of Rousseau. The elements are flat, almost looking like a paper cut-out. The colors are vibrant and even the night scene is colored so well. 

This painting, like most of Rousseau’s paintings, is a portrayal of an impossible event that can never happen. And that is what makes this painting unique and worth looking at. 

Rousseau’s style is not refined. It is very simple. But that does not mean that it is lacking in any way. His style is different, unique, and eye-catching. But what matters the most is Rousseau painted what he wanted to paint, what he wanted to portray and he succeeded in doing so. 

The painting does not tell any story, any hidden symbolism, or any socio-political message. This painting is the pinnacle of simple art. And this is what makes this simple painting so special.

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