t's November and the Russian Hermitage collection is on display in the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW). Naturally, I made a conscious effort to make an early visit to view the works sans people as big names draw big crowds.
The Vuillards were pretty, the Kandinskys were bold and bright, but the one canvas that viewers were lining up to see was a small green painting by Henri Rousseau. This quiet work features a 20th century communal garden or park setting painted in a naive style. A number of well dressed figures all wearing hats (of course, this is the 20th century after all, no tracksuits here) are undertaking a leisurely garden stroll.
What intrigued me so was all the coveting going on surrounding this little painting. I observed viewers from all walks of life stare at this unassuming little work while excitedly remarking how much they liked it to one another.
I wandered what it was that drew so many people to this particular work? And after scanning the rest of the paintings in the room, the one thing that I noticed that set it apart was its colour; that is, the work is predominantly painted in greens. Forest, sap and even.. (gasp!) ..caterpillar green. (It has been noted that humankind in general seems to find this particular shade of green, in short, vile).
Is it that in a fast paced world of technology and deadlines, people are instinctively drawn to the calming effects of the natural world?
Possibly. If this exhibition had a metaphorical window in which to escape to the natural world, then this small green painting would be it with its greenery signifying life, youth, harmony, hope, balance, gentleness and modesty. Interestingly, green was a sacred colour of the Egyptians representing the hope and joy of Spring, so much so, they painted their floors of their temples green. In Japanese culture, green is associated with eternal life, and it is the sacred colour of Islam, representing respect and the prophet Muhammad. Suicides dropped by 34% when Blackfriars bridge in London was painted green. Love is evergreen and people awaiting to go on stage sit in "Green rooms" to relax.
So did Henri Rousseau have this kind of thinking in mind when he painted this scene and his other numerous green paintings full of jungles and tigers?
Keeping in mind that Rousseau was quoted as once having said: "When I step into the hothouses and see the plants from exotic lands, it seems to me that I am in a dream." So, perhaps so.
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