My favourite painting: Charlie McCormick

Charlie McCormick makes his choice: a Henri Rousseau classic.

Charlie McCormick on Bouquet of Flowers by Henri Rousseau

‘I don’t have a favourite painting: it would be like picking a favourite flower, they change with the seasons and my mood. Like the gardens I admire — colourful allotments and front gardens — this painting has a clashing mixture of colour, often used by Rousseau.

‘The red desk, pink backdrop and the restrained bouquet of flowers, limited to four types of blooms, would make a fantastic garden display. I like the yellow and black pansies almost peeping out from behind the leaves. This painting makes me want to grow more wacky China asters, but, most of all, it makes me want to visit Tate.’

Charlie McCormick is a garden designer and writer.

Charlotte Mullins comments on Bouquet of Flowers

Henri Rousseau worked as a toll collector in Paris, but his real passion was painting and, by his 50th year, he had retired from his job to paint full time. He was self-taught, but aspired to be France’s greatest realist painter. Although his work was selected for the prestigious annual Salon, the critics were unforgiving, finding his work naïve and clumsy. Subsequently, he showed at the Salon des Indépendants with the post-Impressionists, where Paul Signac and Edgar Degas admired his simplified compositions and vivid colours. His best-known landscapes feature fantastical plants and animals, as if he visited exotic jungles in his dreams.

Bouquet of Flowers was completed the year he died. Rousseau enjoyed painting imaginary vases of flowers — other examples are now in the Barnes Foundation and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. In these works, he places the flowers centre stage, a curtain rippling behind them, as if they are about to take a bow. Here, a quartet of stylised blooms that approximate pansies, forget-me-nots, mimosa and asters vie for our attention as they shoot out of a white vase. The asters seem to wiggle like sea anemones, each petal a careful pairing of vermillion and ochre, each flower vibrantly alive.

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Rousseau died of an infection in 1910, the year a selection of his work was exhibited in New York’s 291 Gallery. In 1911, the first Rousseau monograph was published and a retrospective of his work was held at the Salon des Indépendants.

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