Henri Julien Félix Rousseau (Le Douanier) was born in Laval in 1844, into a middle class family. While working for a lawyer in 1863, Rousseau was charged with larceny and joined the army to avoid scandal. In the army he heard adventurous stories from his fellow soldiers who served in Mexico and this inspired him later in his work. He left the army 1868, and found a job as a clerk at the Paris municipal toll-collecting service. Ever since, he has traditionally been called “Le Douanier” (the customs officer). In 1884 Rousseau obtained a permit to draw and make copies in the national museums. In 1885 two of his works were displayed at the Salon des Champs-Elysées. From 1886 he exhibited regularly at the Salon des Indépendants.
In 1893 Rousseau retired and took seriously to painting. He met the writer Alfred Jarry who introduced him to the Parisian intellectual and artistic circles. In 1906 Rousseau met and befriended Robert Delaunay. Although he was regarded as a complete eccentric, among his admirers were Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Marie Laurencin and the poet Max Jacob. In 1909 his first one man show was opened in a Parisian furniture shop. His work exercised extensive influence on generations of vanguard artists. He dies in Paris in 1910.