Beading with the Masters: Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau is a French post-impressionist painter whose story I find particularly inspiring. He’s one of my favorite painters, not just because I find his paintings beautiful and intriguing, but because he never gave up doing what he loved despite receiving negative criticism about his work throughout his artistic career. He was pretty much entirely self-taught, and that made it hard for him to break into the extremely social-centric world of fine art. Rousseau eventually found his way into the scene, two years before his death, when Pablo Picasso discovered one of Rousseau’s paintings at a market as a canvas to be painted over. He is now recognized as an influential genius whose paintings are considered of the highest artistic quality.

ABOVE: Henri Rousseau’s Vue de pont de Sèvres, Exotic Landscape, Le Rêve, and Self Portrait with Lisa Kan’s Petit Fiore Trellis Bracelet, Barbara Falkowitz and Amy Haftkowycz’s Moroccan Essence Bracelet, Riana Olckers’ Royal Tigereye Bracelet, and Sara-Beth Cullinan’s Garden Bezel Necklace.

I’m an art geek and love exploring art history. I’ve been enjoying learning what inspired artists’ work and tapping into their stories. I’ve selected my favorite notable artists, and in the month of their birth I’ll share their stories with you, and draw correlations between them and beading jewelry designs.

If you’re into art history, too, be sure to check out my previous article about artist Vincent Van Gogh, or read the entire Beading with the Masters series to get all caught up with what I’ve shared so far!

Botanical Themes in Beading


Henri Rousseau was a regular at the Jardin des Plantes, France’s main botanical garden. He once said “When I go into the glass houses and I see the strange plants of exotic lands, it seems to me that I enter into a dream.” The foliage and flowers that he encountered there, and his study of book illustrations inspired the jungle scenes that he loved to paint. Nature’s beauty informs artistic choices in every art form, beadwork especially. Here are a few beading patterns that are blossoming with inspiration from plants and flowers:

Wild Animals


Rousseau did all of his painting amidst New Imperialism’s Scramble for Africa (the period of time in which European powers, the United States, and Japan engaged in a frenzy of colonization on the African continent). There was an influx of taxidermy of African wild animals, and Rousseau used them to study the animals for his paintings. People read what the explorers said about the nature of lions, tigers, monkeys, and colorful birds, and imagined what it was like to see them in the wild. Check out these beading patterns that might appeal to your own wild side:

Exotic Imagery for Beading


With subjects such as wild animals in jungles, hot air balloons, bi-planes, sailing ships flying flags from all over the world, I get the sense that Henri Rousseau longed to be a world traveler. He certainly found creative satisfaction through the use of exotic images. These days, it’s a lot easier to get around the world, and in our age of TV and the internet it’s easy to see and experience other cultures and places. Even though the world may be a little less mysterious nowadays, we still are inspired by antiquities and the allure of exotic places, and it shows in our creative endeavors. These beading patterns have a worldly, exotic feel:

If there’s one lesson to be learned from Henri Rousseau’s story, it’s to keep doing what you love for yourself first. Don’t let the possibility of negative criticism keep you from artistically expressing yourself. If you do receive a critique, don’t be discouraged. You can try to learn from it rather than be hurt by it. Henri Rousseau’s work was often criticized and people said he painted like a child, but he kept right on painting what he wanted to paint, in his own style. His work has since inspired all kinds of artists, including other painters, poets, musicians, and even modern filmmakers.

Meredith Steele
Technical Editor, Beadwork


Find your creative inspiration with beading in the Interweave Store:

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