Was it the appeal of the voyage that prompted Rousseau to paint this ship? Except that this trip is nothing like a pleasure cruise.
According to Jean-Pierre Labiau: "The sea, looking as if it has been cut out of sheet metal, and the sky resembling a stage backdrop, recall the swing boats in sideshows at a funfair" (1). Rousseau might also have taken his inspiration from the panorama in the 1889 Universal Exhibition.
The ship seems to be an amalgam of different models. It has portholes like an ocean liner and a cutwater like a battleship. This combination was also seen in the toy boats of the time. Rousseau might have had these in mind or could have taken his inspiration from an advertisement. The third unevenly spaced funnel was like that on the cruiser D’Entrecasteaux launched in 1896.
Whatever the case, Rousseau took his inspiration from folk arts. In an article in the Italian magazine La Voce published by Soffici, Rousseau talks about his fascination for "the paintings of simple men" - signs, ex-votos and decorations on fairground stalls.
Provenance: Ambroise Vollard, Paris; Paul Guillaume en 1931; Domenica Walter
(1) Jean-Pierre Labiau in De Renoir à Picasso : Chefs d’œuvre du musée de l’Orangerie. Montréal, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2000