Rousseau's forest paintings shown here were among the earliest works that Rousseau exhibited in public. Refused entry to the official, juried Salon exhibition, he took advantage of the newly established annual Salon des Indépendants, which was open to all. Rousseau showed his work in this alternative exhibition nearly every year from 1886, with his submission of Carnival Evening, until his death in 1910.
These first submissions elicited mockery and sarcasm from critics and the public alike, who were baffled by his strangely theatrical images of people—sometimes in elaborate costumes—inexplicably situated in an enveloping forest. Equally perplexing was his disregard for perspective, with foreground, background, and middle ground seeming to coexist on a single plane, like backdrops on a stage. Tinged with both enchantment and menace, these early works foreshadowed his jungle paintings. As one critic wrote, Rousseau's forest is "the virgin forest with its terrors and its beauties, that we dream of as children...[it is] the virgin forest as a creation of fantasy."