The son of an ironmonger from the northwestern market town of Laval, Rousseau had a humble background. He moved to Paris in 1868 and eventually became a clerk for the Paris municipal customs service. For years Rousseau's artistic endeavors were limited to his work as a Sunday amateur, but at age forty-nine he retired from his customs post to paint full time. Although he directed much of his effort toward large-scale canvases for Salon submissions, Rousseau also needed to sell paintings to support himself. With that in mind, he produced numerous modest-sized canvases of suburban Paris, which he sold for equally modest sums, often exchanging them with local merchants for groceries or services. For these small paintings Rousseau chose subjects designed to appeal to his petit-bourgeois clientele, who sought familiar scenes to decorate their homes.
While Rousseau's suburban landscapes are punctuated with signs of modernity (smokestacks, telephone poles, factories), his views of Paris are devoid of the bewildering chaos of the modern metropolis. Instead the artist offers a tranquil vision of a capital where citizens stroll through parks, relax on boating excursions, and fish along riverbanks. The calm, cultivated views of suburban Paris provide a contrast to his emotionally charged images of exotic jungles. Yet the eerie stillness of these suburban landscapes and their odd leaps in scale make the familiar seem strange.