The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
To those who may have noticed him at all, he was the small, colorless, all-but-invisible little man, anonymous, of course, who sat daily at the gates of the city of Paris and collected their tolls as they passed in or out. For want of a proper name, they called him “Le Douanier,” the customs man. Had any of the travelers enquired further they would have learned that his full name was Henri-Julien-Félix Rousseau (1844-1910), that he had been born in Laval, a town some 240 km southwest of Paris, that he was the son of a tinsmith, and that he had won prizes in both art and music when he was a student at the lycée there. They might also have learned that he had started his career as a solicitor's assistant in Angers, but that it had ended almost as soon as it had begun when he was jailed for divulging clients' business. Once released from jail, he would have told his listeners he had joined the French army (true) and had served in Mexico (not true), where he had observed many wild animals and exotic flowers in thick jungles (partially true; he did observe exotic flora and fauna, on many occasions, but he was at the municipal zoo or visiting botanical gardens of Paris). Whatever else he may have added to or subtracted from this biographical pastiche, one statement would have remained constant: He was in Paris to study the great masters. He had a permit to copy at the Louvre. One day he would be the greatest realist painter of all time, greater even than the two he most admired, Bouguereau and Gérôme. Le Douanier sat daily at the gate for some 20 years. Then he retired. If anyone had asked him anything beyond directions or to complain of the toll, perhaps, it is not recorded.
Southgate MT. Young Girl in Pink. JAMA. 2006;295(15):1746. doi:10.1001/jama.295.15.1746