The Snake Charmer is one of Henri Rousseau’s best and most celebrated works. Artist Robert Delaunay was among Rousseau’s keenest admirers and Delaunay’s mother commissioned The Snake Charmer (1907) as a result.
Everything about this oil on canvas is groundbreaking: a black Eve in a Garden of Eden, charming a snake; the vibrant, dense colours; a style both precise and naïve; and an innovative vertical composition. Like the artist’s other jungle paintings, The Snake Charmer is packed with lush greenery. Interspersed by a reptile, the dense vegetation that fills the space is thick with tension. Nature, bordered by a wave of flickering-grass tongues, looms in the foreground.
The dark, voluptuous snake charmer dances amidst a mesh of wildlife and quietly transfixes nature. Different types of wild beasts surround her, each one drawn to her and her charm in the night. In a trance, the animals are under the woman’s spell. The surreal night sky gives this painting a seductive glow. In the background the light of the moon offers a glimpse of what is going on in this jungle scene.
Rousseau expressed his unique vision of the world through dream-like paintings composed of flat forms and saturated colours. Unlike his post-impressionist contemporaries, Rousseau did not paint with large, visible brushstrokes. Instead, he used long, sinuous lines to portray the grass and leaves in the foreground of the painting.
Unlike many of his comrades, Rousseau did not care to paint Parisian cityscapes or French rural scenes. The Snake Charmer was inspired by the artist’s dreams and frequent trips to the botanical gardens in Paris. Similar to Gauguin and Cézanne, Rousseau wanted to escape the bustling, modern world. Unlike these painters Rousseau did not leave Paris to find inspiration. Instead, he found inspiration within his own imagination.