An addition to its collection: The National Gallery has acquired the Portrait of Joseph Brummer by Henri Rousseau (1844–1910) through the Simon Sainsbury Bequest. This work, a testament to Rousseau’s evolution as an artist, will find its home alongside Surprised! (1891), the other Rousseau painting in the Gallery collection. ‘Surprised’ ranks among the institution’s top 10 most popular artworks on and offline. The portrait will feature prominently in the Gallery’s Room 41, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to witness the arc of Rousseau’s artistic journey over two decades.
Painted shortly before Rousseau’s death, the Portrait of Joseph Brummer captures the essence of Rousseau’s ‘naïve art’ style, a genre celebrated for its childlike simplicity and authentic expression. Brummer, an influential Hungarian art dealer and collector, was pivotal in Rousseau’s life. The portrait, reflecting Rousseau’s signature ‘portrait-paysage’ technique, portrays Brummer against a background teeming with meticulously observed plant life from the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. This painting provides a window into Rousseau’s fascination with the exotic, a theme that permeates his work despite never leaving the confines of France during his lifetime.
Brummer’s piercing gaze, carved features, and upright posture exude a statue-like grandeur, hinting at his past as a sculptor under Rodin’s tutelage. The painting’s serene ambience contrasts sharply with Brummer’s casual detachment, his poise underscored by the regal wicker chair where he sits, cigarette in hand. The lush, jungle-like foliage in the background alludes to Brummer’s profound interest in African art, an area he explored alongside noted art collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein.
The Portrait of Joseph Brummer debuted in the exhibition “After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art” and is now part of the National Gallery’s storied portrait tradition, exemplifying the genre’s enduring vitality well into the 20th century. Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “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.”
Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery, praised the generosity of Simon Sainsbury, whose legacy has enabled the Gallery to acquire this striking Rousseau painting. With this acquisition, the Portrait of Joseph Brummer stands as one of only six Rousseau paintings in public collections across the United Kingdom, a testament to the enduring influence of Rousseau’s art in the modern age.
Photo: Henri Rousseau, Portrait of Joseph Brummer, 1909; Image: © The National Gallery, London