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The Cover
September 22/29, 2004

A Centennial of Independence

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(12):1407. doi:10.1001/jama.292.12.1407

Until sometime in his mid-to-late 40s, when he retired from his civil servant job in Paris, Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was, quite literally, a Sunday painter. By no means, however, did he consider his painting a mere hobby nor himself a dilettante. Far from it. His portraits, landscapes, patriotic events, jungle flowers, and exotic beasts were all conceived with an unshakable belief in his own genius. The fact that his work—and himself—were often the objects of ridicule or the butt of elaborate and often cruel practical jokes by his colleagues only strengthened his belief in his uniqueness. Indeed, when it came to the "modern manner" he considered himself greater than even Picasso, and told him so. (He tempered his statement by acknowledging that Picasso was also the greatest, but only in the "Egyptian manner.") Picasso was probably amused, but he and his circle were also becoming aware that perception is not always reality. (Who better to know this than an artist, whose stock-in-trade is illusion?) Beneath the grandiosity of this little man lay something of the truth; it hardly mattered that his fantastical works had their origin not in the exotic travels he claimed, but were rather the fruit of visits to the zoological gardens in Paris and clippings from popular magazines. Fertilized by an endlessly inventive imagination and tended by a patience that seemed limitless, they were the true offspring of this otherwise colorless city tax collector.

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