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The Merry Jesters

Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau, French, 1844 - 1910

Made in Europe


Oil on canvas

57 3/8 × 44 5/8 inches (145.7 × 113.3 cm) Framed: 64 3/16 × 51 1/16 × 2 3/4 inches (163 × 129.7 × 7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 164, European Art 1850-1900, first floor (Women´s Committee Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationMasterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art

    In this extraordinarily rich painting by Henri Rousseau, a group of bearded monkeys and a tropical bird look out intently at the viewer, as if a sudden noise has disturbed their play. The group in the foreground huddles together, an upturned bottle inexplicably emptying its contents into the air in front of them, while a lone monkey in the middle distance hugs a tree trunk in fear. The absurd, pantomime humor of the picture is strangely at odds with the latent menace of the animals' unsettling stares and the frozen stillness of the scene. This tragicomic effect is typical of Rousseau's highly acclaimed late work. The artist captures the dreamy sumptuousness of the jungle by covering almost the entire canvas with an impenetrable curtain of lush vegetation. This lattice of tropical leaves and fronds is painted in luminous colors, and the foliage shimmers as if under stage lights. Rousseau referred to his jungle pictures from the last years of his life as his "Mexican landscapes," and it was once thought that he had actually been to Mexico in the army of Napoleon III. In fact, the flora and fauna in his paintings were based on his visits to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris as well as on children's books and illustrated magazines. Emily Hage, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 106.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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