Lesson ideas: Henri Rousseau - Art and Science

Henri Rousseau - Art and Science

LESSON IDEAS: Henri Rousseau - Art and Science

Middle School Ideas | Elementary Ideas | Additional Lesson Plans

Begin your lesson with Where's the Tiger?. - Mp3 song about Rousseau by Greg Percy. Get the kids acting out the song. Have some fun!


Brief Biography

Rousseau, Henri -- known as Le Douanier Rousseau (1844-1910). French painter, the most celebrated of naïve (untrained) artists.


His nickname refers to the job he held with the Paris Customs Office (1871-93), although he never actually rose to the rank of `Douanier' (Customs Officer). Before this he had served in the army, and he later claimed to have seen service in Mexico, but this story seems to be a product of his imagination. He took up painting as a hobby and accepted early retirement in 1893 so he could devote himself to art.


His character was extraordinarily ingenuous and he suffered much ridicule (although he sometimes interpreted sarcastic remarks literally and took them as praise) as well as enduring great poverty. However, his faith in his own abilities never wavered. He tried to paint in the academic manner traditionalist artists, but it was the innocence and charm of his work that won him the admiration of the avant-garde.

Self-Portrait. | Photograph


In 1908 Picasso gave a banquet, half serious half burlesque, in his honor. Rousseau is now best known for his jungle scenes, the first of which is Surprised! (Tropical Storm with a Tiger) (National Gallery, London, 1891) and the last The Dream (MOMA, New York, 1910). These two paintings are works of great imaginative power, in which he showed his extraordinary ability to retain the utter freshness of his vision even when working on a large scale and with loving attention to detail. He claimed such scenes were inspired by his experiences in Mexico, but in fact his sources were illustrated books and visits to the zoo and botanical gardens in Paris.


His other work ranges from the jaunty humor of The Football Players (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1908) to the mesmeric, eerie beauty of The Sleeping Gypsy (MOMA, 1897). Rousseau was buried in a pauper's grave, but his greatness began to be widely acknowledged soon after his death. (This biography is copied from Web Museum. Permission was not obtained to copy it - bio will be removed upon request)


Internet Links:

  • Jungle Interactive - create your own Rousseau style jungle on line. New from National Gallery of Art.

  • Rousseau in the Jungle - Biography and a close look at Tropical Forest with Monkeys, 1910 - from National Gallery of Art

  • Henri Rousseau, Jungles in Paris - from National Gallery of Art

  • Music Integration: "Foliage" by Riverdale Ensemble A tribute album to Henri Rousseau. -- features Rousseau's "Clemence Waltz" and  interpretations of three of Rousseau's works of art, "Merry Jesters," "Carnival Evening," and "Sleeping Gypsy."

  • Excellent Video: Dropping in on Rousseau Video. A cleverly animated video of the artist Henri Rousseau for young viewers. A bird, Puffer, in an entertaining manner, interviews Rousseau giving him the opportunity to explain how he developed his unique style of painting birds, animals, and plant life after viewing them at the Paris Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Rousseau describes some of his paintings as actual examples are shown. Written by Pam Stephens and animations by Jim McNeill.

Middle School Ideas

Submitted by: Judy Decker
Art of Haiti, Rousseau, Science Integration
Haitian Landscape - Markers
Grade level:
Middle school (6th grade)
Shadow box poster board frame
Elements and Principles of design, perspective using overlapping and scale, Science - biomes and adaptations.


rousseau haiti


Henri Rousseau reproductions, Haitian art reproductions, Animal handouts, live plants, 12 x 18 (30.5 x 46 cm) Newsprint. (for planning), 12 x 18 (30.5 x 46 cm) white Drawing Paper., Saral Transfer Paper., Ultra-Fine Point Markers., assorted AquaMarkers. (Overwriters work great but are no longer available).


This lesson reviewed the work of Henri Rousseau (an artist students were introduced to in elementary) and presented the art of Haiti. Students also looked for similarities in Edward Hicks' "Peaceable Kingdom" and that of Henri Rousseau. Comparisons were also drawn between the work of Rousseau and that of the Haitian painters. Students created a composition drawing from live house plants and handouts of various animals. They wrote about the biome in which the animals lives and any adaptation they would have to make to live in that environment.

Elementary Ideas

Submitted by: Mary Lathron - Caledonia-Mumford Elementary, New York.
Lesson: Printmaking - 3-D layered print (2 plates)
Grade Level: 2nd grade through grade 6


rousseau print      rousseau print

Click images for larger views


The prints are made from Styrofoam printing plates (NOTE- Not sure what product Mary is talking about. She might mean Polyprinting Plates. or E-Z-Cut Printing Blocks. - or even Styrofoam Trays. - Ken)... they used one color of ink (actually, I use Chromacryl Acrylics.) - they had a choice of light or dark green for the foliage prints. They printed multiple copies on white paper. The animal image was printed in the same manner - they could use red, orange or yellow ink. When the prints were dry, they hand colored their prints using Sanford plastic markers (they are very crayon-like, but you can sharpen them in a regular pencil sharpener... they are "kind-of" erasable and they are hollow inside... I love them!) [NOTE- There are probably hundreds of different plastic markers out there. Perhaps the author of this lesson is talking about China Markers.?] They cut out their animals and mounted them to the foliage prints using the foam Scratch-Art 3D-O's..


I use the Dropping in on Rousseau video and book in the beginning stages of the lesson to introduce the lesson/artist etc. While the students are working I play part of the audio from the book called Panther Dream: A Story of the African Rainforest.. Awesome rainforest sounds accompanied by music. The book and music is a collaboration by Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) and his sister Wendy. At some point in the lesson I will read the whole book to them... they love it!


Note: for 6th grade, you might want to do some reduction printing - reduce plate and print in multiple colors rather than coloring one color prints. Reduction prints will make it more of a challenge for them.


Submitted by: Jeannette Anthos, J. H. House Elementary, Conyers, GA
Lesson Idea:
Peaceable Kingdom
Lesson Plan available (on Artsonia)
Grade Level:
Elementary (this was fourth grade)
Lesson Focus:
Elements: color, line, shape
repetition, rhythm, unity
Historical Period:
Henri Rousseau, Edward Hicks
White drawing paper, Sharpie markers, Crayons. or Oil Pastels.


rousseau hicks print       rousseau hicks print

Present a couple different versions of Edward Hick's "Peaceable Kingdom" painting to the students. Can they find differences in the works? Present a couple of Henri Rousseau's jungles. Can they find similarities? Talk briefly about the biomes in which animals live (connect to science). Have students select animals for their won "Peaceable Kingdom". They may draw plants from life (bring in a few house plants for examples). After they have drawn approximately 1" (2.5 cm) border all around - using Rulers. - draw animals and plants. Outline with Sharpie Fine Point Markers. and color with selected media (Colored Pencils.., Crayons., or AquaMarkers.). Design a border using repeated pattern. Lesson Plan now in Incredible Art Department.

rousseau hicks print       rousseau hicks print

(Left above) Submitted by: Tracy Albert, May Whitney Elementary
Lesson idea:
Bugs - a close look
Grade Level:
Elementary (these are second grade)
Lesson focus:
Drawing from life - Scientific illustration, shape, line, color plan, overlapping

Actual bugs (from bug collections - if available), pictures of insects, Drawing Pencils., Kneaded Rubber Erasers., Sharpie Fine Point Markers. (or black crayons), AquaMarkers. (or Crayons.), Watercolor Paint., Brushes., 9 x 12 (23 x 30.5 cm) Drawing Paper.(or 12 x 18 / 30.5 x 46 cm).


Sharpies and watercolors. 2nd grade studies bugs. Tracy spent time talking about the various parts of a bug (science integration). Students zoom in on details of bugs. Draw several - making some go off the page. Repeat some of the bugs but also show variety. Add a variety of leaves/plants - overlapping. Outline with black crayon or Sharpie and color bugs (leave wings the white of the paper for contrast). Paint the leaves and negative space with watercolors. Resources for insect art below. See watercolors by Lucy Arnold - many nice butterfly paintings.


Submitted by: Christine Sumner Lyman
Lesson Idea:
Pop-up Jungle - using Scratch-Art 3D-O's. or Foamboard. scraps

Another idea would be a 3-D pop-up jungle. I have made them using small pieces of Foamboard.. Another teachers has used 3-D's. Students create overlapping layers using 3 do's. or small Foamboard. squares. Students drew plants, trees and animals on larger white white Drawing Paper. or Construction Paper.. They cut them out and arranged their jungle on 9 x 12 (or larger) (23 x 30.5 cm) construction paper using over lapping (I did mine 12"x 18") (30.5 x 46 cm) To create a 3-D effect - 3-Do's or foam core squares are glued. Note from Judy: I have found that the 3-Do's work better if they are also glued. The adhesive didn't hold up when I used them with elementary students.


Submitted by: Judy Decker
Lesson Idea:
A Bug's Eye View- Garden Scene
Grade Level:
Second grade
Lesson Focus:
Drawing from life - plants /science - overlapping - color

Actual plant leaves & vegetables, plant pictures, pictures of vegetables, Drawing Pencils., Kneaded Rubber Erasers., 12 x 18 (30.5 x 46 cm) white Drawing Paper., Crayons. (or Oil Pastels.), Watercolor Paint., Brushes., water dishes.


Show students jungle paintings by Henri Rousseau - discuss different greens - overlapping - drawing plants from life. Talk a little about plants and the parts of a plant. Show different types/shapes of leaves. Have students draw plants growing in the garden - up close - show cross section so you can see vegetables that grows underground (like carrots, radishes and beets). Have students draw the roots of the plants below the surface of the ground. Draw foliage and vegetables above ground - use overlapping to create a crowded garden. . Plants should go off the top of the paper- draw large.  Add bugs and worms (earthworms below ground). Color vegetables and plants heavily with crayon. Obtain a variety of greens by layering colors (more yellow greens and more blue greens -- add some red to green, too). Color the ground. Paint the background all the way down to the ground line (blues or yellow work well for the background). Paint the ground with brown. Discuss how the student work is similar to Henri Rousseau and how it is different. This is a good project for the start of the year (especially if you teach in a rural school district where many of the students have gardens). I took in many different plant clippings from my garden when I did this lesson.

Submitted by: Tracy Albert May, May Whitney Elementary
Lesson Idea:
It's a Jungle Out There (Henri Rousseau)
Grade level:
Elementary - middle school (these are 5th grade)
Lesson Focus:
Science, overlapping, color, shape, line, texture, pattern, unity

Animal handouts, 9 x 12 (23 x 30.5 cm) bright Construction Paper. (or 12 x 18 / 30.5 x 46 cm), Drawing Pencils./Kneaded Rubber Erasers., black Crayons. (or Sharpie Fine Point Markers.), Oil Pastels. (Construction Paper Crayons. could be substituted), black Tempera Paint. (dishwashing liquid added)

rousseau hicks print rousseau hicks print


These works are awesome! Start by showing students several works by Henri Rousseau (Haitian works can also be used). Draw jungles on bright colored construction paper - include border design. Outline with black Sharpie or black crayon. Color heavily with oil pastels (build up a good layer). Brush over with black tempera with a little soap added (picture underneath barely visible). Paper clips scratched through the tempera to reveal the picture underneath (could also use scratch tools). All students had success - a sure fire winner. Good for grade 4 through 6.


From Laraine Galloway: One year I did jungle scenes in the style of Rousseau. I took the class to the Norton Simon Museum to study a Rousseau. Each student was given a gift, a print of the Rousseau painting from the museum. The project they did was done on black mat poster board (about 24" x 20" / 61 x 51 cm) - because I had some that was donated - and oil pastel. The requirements were: 3 animals and one of the animals had to be a tiger and lots of vegetation. I did demos of basic plant and leaf designs, horizon lines, overlapping, working background to foreground, and provided lots of animal and plant references. Rousseau's style was very simple for them to emulate. They turned out great!


See also: 4th Grade Symmetrical Paper Masks
4th Iguana masks. Focus was on symmetry although we were studying Rousseau. Use Colored Markers..


Works by Rousseau (Believe it or not but these cost only 1¢ each at the time of this posting)

Additional Lesson Plans for Henri Rousseau

Art and Science Lessons Ideas

rousseau worms rousseau worms

Submitted by: Jan Hillmer
Plant Cycles - Ceramics
Ceramic pinch/coil pots with "earth" worms
Grade level:

Jan Hillmer needed a lesson to go along with 2nd grade science - plant cycles. Student will be planting seeds in science class and watching them grow. They will transplant them into these earthen ware ceramic pinch and coil posts decorated with worms. Worm aerate the soil to help the plants grow.


Submitted by: Judy Decker
Art and Science - Sculpture
Ceramic flower pots with polymer clay (Sculpey.)

Purchase some inexpensive ceramic pots. Students will make Sculpey flowers and leaves to glue onto the outside of the the pot. They will make some fun worm pot sitters to sit on edge of pot - or stick on dirt out of Sculpey clays.  Plant seeds in your flower pots and watch them grow. Alternate idea - Larger Worm Sculptures - whimsical.- worms in action - What do worms do underground? What are some activities for worms to do? Make props for sculpture (worm school - etc).


underground Submitted by: Theresa Parker, Discovery Elementary, Gig Harbor, Washington
Drawing - Science - Eric Carle
Underground drawings with textures

Theresa presented the artist/illustrator Eric Carle. to her students. In cooperation with the classroom teacher, Theresa chose to show what happens underground in the plant life cycle (a unit of study for 2nd grade in science class). Student brainstormed on all of the things the worms could be doing down there. They created underground cross section with texture panels and added Eric Carle style painted collage.

Students could choose a vertical composition or horizontal. More worms ideas to come!


Submitted by: Anne Clarie- Dinosaur Diorama. See more Dinosaur ideas on her web site. (Archives)

Anne Claire adapted a lesson she found on Enchanted Learning web site.

Older students may get into doing wire and tooling foil dinosaur sculpture inspired by John Payne.

dino print dino print

Submitted by: Betsy Larson
Night Time Landscapes with Owls

This site came in handy today - Owl Pages. We read "Owl Moon". and did night time winter landscapes. Then we listened to a great horned owl. There are pictures of owls, too. It dawned on me that many students would probably never hear one of these sounds in real life.


Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsoworth, Lesson: Ceramic Owls

Jeryl's first graders make a paper collage owl - working on symmetry and textures. Her next lesson is a ceramic owl with textures. See lesson plan.


Here is more Science fun from Crayola (now you will need to register to get some of the lessons)

Insects in Art - Resources

Nature - Wildlife Art



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