The World of Henri Rousseau by Yann le Pichon; Balthus by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola; Masterpieces from the Pompidou Centre by Edward Lucie-Smith - review by Nicholas Garland

Nicholas Garland

Sophisticated Innocence

The World of Henri Rousseau

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Phaidon 100pp £15 order from our bookshop

Balthus

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Thames & Hudson 160pp £7.75 order from our bookshop

Masterpieces from the Pompidou Centre

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Thames & Hudson 160pp £7.75 order from our bookshop
 

What do we mean by calling an artist ‘a primitive’? Leonard Adam, writing on the subject in 1940, quotes G A Stevens:

Primitive art is the most pure, most sincere form of art there can be, partly because it is deeply inspired by religious ideas and spiritual experience, and partly because it is entirely unselfconscious as art; there are no tricks which can be acquired by the unworthy, and no technical exercises which can masquerade as works of inspiration.

But Adam added a warning note:

In point of fact the ‘primitive’ artist is not always as naive as one would like to think.

This paradox is neatly presented within the enormously attractive yet mysterious paintings of the Douanier Rousseau . He is called a ‘primitive’ or ‘naive’ painter because his work suggests, anyway at first glance, that he was either sublimely unaware of other more sophisticated schools of painting – he was an exact contemporary of the Impressionists – or that knowing of them he lacked the skill to paint in such advanced modes himself. One might be even more inclined to classify him as a naive on learning more about his character: he clearly had a kind of sweetness and innocence that impressed

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