Painting by Rousseau from the Simon Sainsbury Bequest acquired by the National Gallery
The National Gallery has been gifted the Portrait of Joseph Brummer by Henri Rousseau as part of the Simon Sainsbury Bequest*. This painting will join the only other work in the Gallery by Rousseau, Surprised!, one of the top 10 most popular paintings in the Gallery online, and the focus of the 2024 Take One Picture programme.
Executed only a few months before the artist’s death, the 'Portrait of Joseph Brummer' will be displayed in Room 41 alongside Rousseau’s 'Surprised!'. These two works will allow the Gallery to describe the arc of Rousseau’s career over two decades, as well as his continued taste for the exotic in the form of carefully examined plant-life at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris (Rousseau did not leave France during his life). The painting will also hang alongside other masterpieces from the Simon Sainsbury Bequest, including Claude Monet’s Snow Scene at Argenteuil (the artist’s largest winter landscape) and Water-Lilies, Setting Sun.
Rousseau was a self-taught artist who took up painting while working at the Paris Customs Office. While some ridiculed his work, several avant-garde artists and writers of the time – not least Pablo Picasso – viewed him as an important figure in the development of a more modern form of art. Today, Rousseau is seen as a pioneer of ‘naïve art’, a term used to describe art produced by artists with no formal artistic training. At the beginning of the 20th century these ‘naïve’ artists and artworks were admired because of the link artists and critics made between the childlike simplicity of the works, and the perceived resultant authenticity of expression.
Joseph Brummer (1883–1947) was a Hungarian art dealer and collector and an early supporter of Rousseau, commissioning this portrait shortly after meeting him. The portrait is the culmination of the development of a genre Rousseau termed ‘portrait-paysage’ (portrait/landscape), in which he painted a sitter at full length against a landscape background which was intended as a ‘commentary’ on the sitter’s personality.
Brummer stares down the viewer, his carefully carved facial features and upright posture conveying a statue-like grandeur, perhaps hinting at his initial training as a sculptor under Rodin. The serene atmosphere is enhanced by the regal yellow and red plush wicker chair in which Brummer sits, while a lit cigarette in his hand gives him an air of casual detachment. Brummer was a central figure in the collecting of African and Oceanian art, alongside Gertrude and Leo Stein, and the jungle-like trees and bushes are perhaps a reference to his interest in African art.
Following its appearance in the exhibition After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art, 'Portrait of Joseph Brummer' will now take its place in the long history of the European portrait tradition, illustrating the continuing vitality of the genre into the 20th century.
Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post 1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, says: 'It is thrilling to include a legendary Rousseau portrait in the national collection; a vital aspect of the grand portrait tradition from the Renaissance onwards, so well represented here, is now carried with brazen simplicity into the 20th century. We can almost hear the cheers of avant-garde Paris as they echoed through Picasso’s studio at the famous banquet of 1908 where the host, Gertrude Stein and Brummer himself, among many others, celebrated the simple customs clerk who, they understood so well, had altered the course of modern painting.’
Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, says: ‘Simon Sainsbury’s bequest to the National Gallery was the generous gesture of a very generous man. The striking 'Portrait of Jospeh Brummer' joins the Gallery’s 'Surprised!' as one of only six paintings by Rousseau in UK public collections.’
Notes to editors
'Portrait of Joseph Brummer', 1909
Oil on canvas
115.9 × 88.3 cm
The National Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Simon Sainsbury, 2006; entered the Collection in 2023
© The National Gallery London
'Portrait of Joseph Brummer', 1909
Image: © The National Gallery, London
Henri Rousseau was born at Laval and first worked as an inspector at a toll station on the outskirts of Paris (1871‒85). From this his popular name 'le douanier' (the customs officer) is derived. He took seriously to painting after retirement and exhibited from 1886 at the Salon des Indépendants. He is best known for his jungle fantasy pictures, of which the National Gallery Collection contains one example.
Rousseau was apparently indebted to Paul Gauguin in the composition of his works, and to traditional Salon painters, like Jean-Léon Gérôme, in his careful technique. His work attracted a small group of admirers, including Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and the poet Apollinaire, but he was otherwise regarded as a complete eccentric.
The National Gallery is one of the greatest art galleries in the world. Founded by Parliament in 1824, the Gallery houses the nation’s collection of paintings in the Western European tradition from the late 13th to the early 20th century. The collection includes works by Bellini, Cézanne, Degas, Leonardo, Monet, Raphael, Rembrandt, Renoir, Rubens, Titian, Turner, Van Dyck, Van Gogh and Velázquez. The Gallery’s key objectives are to enhance the collection, care for the collection and provide the best possible access to visitors. Admission free. More at nationalgallery.org.uk
Simon Sainsbury (1930‒2006) was the great-grandson of John James Sainsbury and his wife Mary Ann Staples, the original founders of Sainsbury’s. He joined the family business in 1956 after training as a chartered accountant.
Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read History, he was a talented sportsman and a gifted pianist with a passionate interest in the arts, in particular 18eighteenth- and 19nineteenth-century architecture, and Impressionist painting. In April 1985, Simon, John and Timothy Sainsbury made the generous offer to build an annexe to the National Gallery’s Wilkins building, bringing almost thirty years of uncertainty over the site to a close.
Over the next four years, Simon Sainsbury dedicated a great deal of his time and energy to the project management of this ambitious development. The Sainsbury Wing opened to the public in 1991, the year Simon became a Trustee of the Gallery.
He remained on the Board until 1998 and is remembered for his dedication and loyalty throughout this crucial period in the Gallery’s history. He also chaired the Sainsbury’s arts sponsorship panel, and gave grants to The British Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum, the National Theatre, Pallant House, the Royal Opera House, Tate, the V&A, and the Wallace Collection, where he was Chairman of Trustees for 20 years until 1997.
*The Rousseau was bequeathed to the National Gallery in 2006 by Simon Sainsbury under his will.
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