What is Naïve Art?

Based on the term “Naïve,” the implication could be, based on the classic English dictionary definition, art “lacking worldly experience and understanding.” But Naïve art certainly is not lacking in those qualities. A Naïve artist must have worldly experience and understanding to create such captivating works of art.

“Naive” as an art term differed depending on the historical period in which it is used. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the word referred to a style of articulation in literature or detail in poetry, sometimes having a positive or negative meaning.

In French, “naïve” is the feminine of “naïf,” meaning natural or “not artificial.” From Latin, “nātīvus” meaning native or rustic. Which are more accurate meanings than lack of worldly experience for this art form. Naïve wasn’t used in relation to painting until the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

Rejection of sophisticated artistic techniques

In classic English terms, naïve is also defined as a quality of a child, as children are new to the world and have little experience. Naïve art is often described as childlike due to the absence of the formal qualities of painting, such as the traditional three perspective rules.

One quality stands out as the main attraction for many, and that is the typically bright and bold colors. Now we have natural, native, rustic, childlike, and colorful words to describe this artistic genre. In essence, what a Naive artist does, perhaps not deliberately, is break the rules, creating works of art with a twisted perspective with geometrically imprecise uneven shapes.

A narrative of the artists’ life

Naive art as a cultural phenomenon is based more on personal experiences and stories than on artistic styles, commissions, or academic canons. Naive artworks are often biographical. The pictures talk about the artists’ life and character; they become illustrations of reflective narratives subtly told by the artists.

Narration is a tool for understanding and justifying individual experience. Naïf artists mend their memory gaps through their works, constructing a holistic, coherent, and meaningful story of their life. Pre-formed and established ‘ways of seeing’ determine the style and the technique of painting and the choice of tools borrowed from professional art.

Naive art is not a realistic depiction of the outside world, but its conceptualization, creation of a world picture. Despite their different techniques, naive artists conceptualize reality in similar ways; however, they depict different subjects and various fragments of the world picture.

Naive art is a conceptualization of an individual world picture. Naive artists produce their own models of the world, completely coherent within their own experience. Therefore, they are sincere: they create a model of everything, but it is everything as they know it.

History of Naïve art

It is hard to determine when and where this genre exactly originated. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Naïve art started to be noticed and appreciated. Other artists experimented with new ways to express themselves, like Henri Matisse, André Derain, Claude Monet, and Henri de Toulouse.

The French painter, Rousseau, made his debut at the Salon des Indépendants in 1886, with the painting Carnival Evening. Considered now a masterpiece of naive art, it was an impressive beginning for the artist.

It is now believed the term naïve in relation to paintings originated when artist Paul Signac became aware of Rousseau’s talents and started organizing exhibitions of Rousseau’s work in several big galleries.

In 1912, a collection of essays called The Blue Rider Almanac about art that naïve art got real notice. The almanac brought Rousseau’s work to the attention of other art circles.

Rousseau is well known for his paintings of jungle scenes, although he never left France or saw a jungle. His inspiration came from children’s books and the botanical gardens of Paris.

Rousseau had a style of “portrait-landscape painting” where he first painted a scene and then portrayed a person or animal in the foreground. This style made his paintings often appear flat and childlike. While this is admired today, back then, Rousseau’s style was labeled as grotesque; ignored, and laughed at.

Some art historians and critics regard Rousseau as one of the pioneers of modern art because of his paintings’ sincerity, stance against academism, and detachment from all set standards.

It is known that not only art collectors and dealers but also literary figures put great emphasis on the importance of Naive art. Rimbaud, the poet, stated that the paintings in a Naive and unskilled style should be loved and considered as important.

Nobody had ever thought that this mysterious world created outside the circulation of art, uninformed by art movements and styles of the time, would greatly contribute to contemporary art. However, artists began to emerge who attributed importance to this style and suggested that Naive painting was a kind of art in its own right. By such developments, Naive art began to be regarded separately from folk art.

Henri Rousseau, whose works have all of the Naive art characteristics, has been accepted as the pioneer of all painters working in this perspective. The paintings of Rousseau have a childish expression and a Naive and independent language. Yet, beyond this point of view, a maturity different than a child’s painting strikes the eye.

Museums devoted to naïve art

While many books on naïve art and the internet have many paintings to see, there is nothing as thrilling as seeing great works of art up close in a museum. Exhibitions of naive art create a meeting space between the artists’ stories and the viewers’ memory, experience, and emotions.

You can find Museums devoted to naïve art in:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – International Museum of Naive Art Brazil

Kecskemét, Hungary – Museum of Hungarian Naive Artists

Kovačica, Serbia – Gallery of Naïve Art Kovačica

Riga, Latvia – Naive Art Museum of Latvia

Jaen, Spain – International Museum of Naive Art

Paris, France – Museum of Naïve Art–Max Fourny


Despite its humble beginnings, naive art is now a fully recognized art genre represented in galleries worldwide and adopted by numerous visual artists and illustrators worldwide. Andrés Pérez Jurado brings his own special vision of this important art form.