Born Joseph-Gabriel Rousseau, in a small village outside of Chartres to a farming family, Rousseau became interested in drawing at a very early age. He was also intensely interested in physics and chemistry, first attending Ecole Breguet, and in 1902 Ecole de Sèvres, where he meet the son of pâte-de-verre pioneer Henri Cros. Following his graduation in 1906 Rousseau took the title of “engineer-ceramist” and worked in a research laboratory developing dental porcelain before devoting his focus exclusively to the art of pâte-de-verre. In 1913 he married Marianne Argyriadès, a highly cultured woman of Greek descent who fueled Rousseau’s interest in Greek and Classical art. After his marriage Rousseau added the first four letters of his wife’s maiden name “a-r-g-y” in homage to her cultural, emotional, and domestic support, signing his name “Argy-Rousseau” for the remainder of his artistic career.
His pate-de-verre was immediately recognizable for its technique and highly individualized decorative style that was apparent even in his earliest works exhibited in 1914. As was the ideal of the time, and Argy-Rousseau’s own inclinations, nature was the foremost theme in his work. Flowers, insects, animals, and the female form were abundant. He was also inclined to simplicity and balance hallmarks of the Classical art and antiquity that inspired him. In many of his vases he created a frieze out of flowers that wrapped around the upper portions. From 1917 onwards his naturalistic forms became increasingly elongated and the influence of Japanese art became more apparent. Scenes from ancient mythology, such as his famous “Le Jardin des Hespérides” were also common motifs. Expertly skilled at placing glass paste inside the mould to achieve desired effect, the glass ranged in thickness and from semi-transparent to opaque in accordance to the design.