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The Cover
June 20, 2007

The Wedding Party

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2007;297(23):2562. doi:10.1001/jama.297.23.2562

Nothing in his early life predicted his later fame. Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was born in the Loire Valley of France to a tinker and his wife and was educated at the local Laval lycée. He did military service in Angers and arrived in Paris just as the city was recovering from the Franco-Prussian War. He was 27. He took a job as a tolltaker at the gates of Paris and lived modestly with a wife and what would be eventually nine children (only one of whom would survive him).

Rousseau's ambitions, however, were hardly modest. With virtually no artistic training he determined to be the greatest of all painters. (He would later declare himself so, excepting only Picasso to whom he was willing to concede a talent that equaled his own.) When he was not at the city's toll gate he haunted the Louvre, where he copied the masters. He acknowledges no other teacher. At age 49, considering himself at last ready to turn professional, he retired from his tolltaker's job. He was ridiculed as a simpleton or, at best, tolerated as quaint and amusing.