Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon San Antonio,1896

Odilon Redon
San Antonio,1896

Odilon Redon: Christ with Red Thorns

Odilon Redon: Christ with Red Thorns

Redon, Odilon - [Baudelaire, Charles]‎  ‎Les Fleurs du mal. Interprétations par Odilon Redon. ‎

Redon, Odilon – [Baudelaire, Charles]‎
‎Les Fleurs du mal. Interprétations par Odilon Redon. ‎

Odilon Redon David and Goliath, 1875

Odilon Redon
David and Goliath, 1875

Odilon Redon . Ballon (une petite tête au centre) .1833

Odilon Redon . Ballon (une petite tête au centre) .1833

Odilon Redon was born in 1840, the same year as Monet and Rodin. Though he was a contemporary of the Realists and Impressionists, Redon took a very different path, both in becoming an artist and what he created. While the Realists and Impressionists were concerned with capturing what they saw and the present moment, Redon instead drew on his fantasies and dreams (and often nightmares).

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Sciapode, 1892

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Sciapode, 1892

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Menu of a Dinner for French Lithographers, April 1, 1887, 1887

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Menu of a Dinner for French Lithographers, April 1, 1887, 1887

 X Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Is There Not an Invisible World, from The Juror, 1887


X
Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Is There Not an Invisible World, from The Juror, 1887

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Dramatic and Grandiose with Her Face like that of a Druid Priestess, 1887

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Dramatic and Grandiose with Her Face like that of a Druid Priestess, 1887

 X Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 The Dream has Ended in Death, from The Juror, 1887


X
Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
The Dream has Ended in Death, from The Juror, 1887

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 And a Large Bird, Descending From the Sky, Hurls Itself Against the Topmost Point of Her Hair, plate 3 of 10, 1888

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
And a Large Bird, Descending From the Sky, Hurls Itself Against the Topmost Point of Her Hair, plate 3 of 10, 1888

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Frontispiece for Les Flambeaux noirs by Emile Verhaeren, 1890

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Frontispiece for Les Flambeaux noirs by Emile Verhaeren, 1890

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 The Celestial Art, 1894

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
The Celestial Art, 1894

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Saint Anthony:

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Saint Anthony: “Help Me, O My God!”, plate 2 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Flowers Fall and the Head of a Python Appears, plate 5 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Flowers Fall and the Head of a Python Appears, plate 5 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 And He Discerns an Arid, Knoll-Covered Plain, plate 7 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
And He Discerns an Arid, Knoll-Covered Plain, plate 7 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Helen - Ennoia, plate 10 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Helen – Ennoia, plate 10 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 It Was a Hand, Seemingly as Much of Flesh and Blood as My Own, plate 4 of 6, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
It Was a Hand, Seemingly as Much of Flesh and Blood as My Own, plate 4 of 6, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Larvae So Bloodless and So Hideous, plate 5 of 6, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Larvae So Bloodless and So Hideous, plate 5 of 6, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Untitled Trial Lithograph, 1900

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Untitled Trial Lithograph, 1900

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Centaur Taking Aim at the Clouds, 1895

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Centaur Taking Aim at the Clouds, 1895

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Cover for

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Cover for “La Nuit”, 1886

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Mystical Conversation, 1892

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Mystical Conversation, 1892

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Oannes:

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Oannes: “I, the first consciousness in Chaos, rose from the abyss to harden matter, to determine forms,” plate 14 from The Temptation of Saint Anthony (3rd series), 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Oannes:

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Oannes: “I, the first consciousness in Chaos, rose from the abyss to harden matter, to determine forms,” plate 14 from The Temptation of Saint Anthony (3rd series), 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 He Falls Head Foremost Into the Abyss, plate 17 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
He Falls Head Foremost Into the Abyss, plate 17 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Anthony:

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Anthony: “What is the object of all this?” The Devil: “There is no object!”, plate 18 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 The Old Woman:

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
The Old Woman: “What are you afraid of? A wide black hole! It is empty, perhaps?”, plate 19 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 The Beasts of the Sea, Round Like Leather Bottles, plate 22 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
The Beasts of the Sea, Round Like Leather Bottles, plate 22 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Day Appears at Last,...and in the Very Disk of the Sun Shines the Face of Jesus Christ, plate 24 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Day Appears at Last,…and in the Very Disk of the Sun Shines the Face of Jesus Christ, plate 24 of 24, 1896

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 On the Horizon the Angel of Certitude, and in the Somber Heaven a Questioning Eye, plate four from To Edgar Poe, 1882

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
On the Horizon the Angel of Certitude, and in the Somber Heaven a Questioning Eye, plate four from To Edgar Poe, 1882

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Horseman Waiting, 1866

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Horseman Waiting, 1866

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Two Small Horsemen, 1865

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Two Small Horsemen, 1865

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Profile of Shadow, c. 1895

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Profile of Shadow, c. 1895

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Le Nebuleuse, 1875/80

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Le Nebuleuse, 1875/80

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Vision, 1895/97

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Vision, 1895/97

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Cauldron of the Sorceress, 1879

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Cauldron of the Sorceress, 1879

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Cell, n.d.

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Cell, n.d.

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Then There Appears a Singular Being, Having the Head of a Man On the Body of a Fish, plate 5 of 10, 1888

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Then There Appears a Singular Being, Having the Head of a Man On the Body of a Fish, plate 5 of 10, 1888

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Blossoming, plate one from In Dreams, 1879

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Blossoming, plate one from In Dreams, 1879

Odilon Redon French, 1840-1916 Human Plant, c. 1880

Odilon Redon
French, 1840-1916
Human Plant, c. 1880

“ODILON REDON . . . occupies a place apart. ”
Twice with thesewordsAndre Mellerio, his best
critic, has opened important studies of the artist.
“Nowhere perhaps in the history of art or literature can
one find an example of such a singular creature as Odilon
Redon” writes Roger Marx . Other critics, who have
been inspired to superlatives rather than to criticism,
have called him “absolutely original” and “unique. ”
But is the creator of “Dans le Reve” and the flower
pastels so isolated? Is he really the phenomenon of his
age and a person apart? Decidedly not. Redon by his
psychology and cast of mind belongs to his epoch. Contradicting
Roger Marx one might almost say, ”Nowhere
perhaps in the history of art or literature can one find an
artist who is more the child of his century. ‘ ‘
He was born in 1840 in the very midst of Romanticism
and in a way never escaped its hold. That is, he was
continually putting fe eling before reason and intuition before
knowledge. His father was a “primitive,” a man
who had lived in the American Savannahs and adored
Chateaubriand. Redon, a frail child, was brought up in
the Medoc, and though part of his account in “A-SoiMeme”
may be dismissed as the conventional brooding
over childhood, yet the country with its dreary wastes
of sand and desolate plains must have impressed him.
Add to this that he was lonely and given to day-dreams,
and you have all the elements necessary to produce the
typical romantic mind, overbalanced with sensibility. This sensibility had to find an outlet and when he was
ten or eleven years of age, Redan began to draw. Put
in school about the same time, he was unhappy until
a drawing-teacher took an interest in him. “His first
words … were to advise me that I was myself, and
that I should never make a single mark with a pencil
unless my feeling and my reason were in it. ” The same
professor taught him to appreciate Delacroix and later
took him to the Louvre . It was inevitable that in
following his advice, Redan should continue to develop
his particular bent of drawing, rather than subscribe to
the usual academic regime. That is exactly what happened.
He failed the Beaux Arts, and entering the
Atelier Gerome, found that his failure to render the
forms of things accurately was a constant embarrassment
to him. Before the model his skill completely vanished
and though he worked hard he could not please Gerome .
During these years he was particularly miserable. Like
any unadjusted artist he felt that his medium must be at
fault. At sixteen he had begun to study architecture;
.now he turned to sculpture . He met Carat and Chintreuil
and for awhile painted a sort of mock Barbizon
landscape. He went faithfully to the museums where he
copied Delacroix, or rather interpreted Delacroix,
through his own formula of mass and strange color. His
greatest inspiration, during this part of his life, came
from Armand Clavaud, a romantic botanist who was
experimenting one moment with the life of the most delicate
plant and the next was reading aloud from the
poems of Edgar Allan Poe or Baudelaire.
Round the year 1863, at Bordeaux, Redan met Rudolphe
Bresdin who taught him something about lithography
and etching. His first etchings are very close to
Bresdin’s, and display mountain landscapes with medieval horsemen, strictly in the conventional taste. If
Redon does not exhibit any striking ability in them, at
least he does not repeat the minute, cumbersome detail
of his master. Then we come to a plate (No. 10 in the
catalogue of his graphic work by Andre Mellerio)which
is apparently like the rest. A knight in white gallops
across a stretch of lonely mountains towards a sky
which is rolling up white clouds. At least that is the
design that Mellerio reproduces. But in the Art Institute
Collection there is another version. After .only three
proofs had been pulled Redon suddenly turned the plate
on end. He thought he saw a head in the clouds and he
goes to work to change the whole plate to suit that
fancy. With burnisher he rubs out the knight; he traces
the line of a woman’s shoulder, and darkens other portions
of the design. ”My father used to say to me ‘Look
at the clouds. Do you see moving forms there the way
I do?’ … and I passed hours following, with infinite
pleasure, the marvelous shimmering of their fleeting
changes. ”
The altered plate, from which he printed one proof
and then destroyed the copper, is important to a study
of Redon’s mind, because it means that as early as 1865
or 1866he was willing to sacrifice a more or less representational
design, over which he must have worked
hard, for an entirely fantastic design, executed on a
whim of the moment. It means that his inner eye was
already stronger than his realistic eye. Obviously, he
did not realize the significance of the plate, for about the
same time he tried to be a realist, applying the palette of
Courbet.
It is clear that these years represent the crisis in
Redon’s art. Discouraged by every effort to express real
appearances he was thrown back on the world of unreal appearances, the imagination. His problem, which is
the usual one of the misunderstood romantic, was to
create a complete dream-world out of the impressions,
feelings and sensations· of his outer life. The discovery
of charcoal as a medium helped him in this problem.
Delighted by its rich black and subtle grays, he gave up
trying to paint in color. After he had made a number of
drawings, he wished to multiply them and thought of
lithography, then a much-rejected medium. FantinLatour
helped him with the process and in 1879 appeared
his first collection of plates, Dans le Reve. It had taken
him thirty years to complete his vision and to find a
medium which would successfully interpret it.
He needed subjects to stimulate this vision and these
he found not in the field of art, as much as in the field of
romantic literature . It is clear that although Redon has
certain sympathies with Delacroix, Leonardo da Vinci,
Diirer and Rembrandt, and though he dedicated one set
of plates to Goya, he was less influenced by the art of
these men than he was by the art of words. His journal
is full of prose-poems, and he is fond of long descriptive
titles for his lithographs. At least three of his own
series are connected with romantic terms. ”La Nuit’ ‘was
a favorite word of the period, which expressed all the
mystery and terror of night; “Songes” and “Le Reve”
did not mean the dreams which come from well-deserved
slumber, but the hallucinations of the mind during sleep
or day-dreaming.
In his designs for Poe, Baudelaire and Flaubert, Redon
responded similarly to the magic of words. He did not
illustrate the text exactly; he produced what he called
“correspondences.” Here, as he tells us himself, the
unconscious mind was of the greatest benefit to him. A
word or a phrase, dropped into his nervously receptive mind, started a train of images which expressed themselves
on paper almost without his help. At other times
he would vary this automatic drawing with minute
studies from nature . After having made a certain number
of these he would be seized with an urge to create, and
putting away the representations, would rapidly draw
his own version. The ”correspondences” are particularly
clear in the three albums of·plates made for the
Tentation de Saint-Antoine. Flaubert possessed a remarkable
visual sense, and Redon produced some of his most
compelling designs to illustrate this strange mixture of
drama, grand opera, novel, epic and ballet.
Not only romantic literature but romantic science
furnished him with material. In Les Origines (1883), he
found organic evolution a source fora new decoration.
The immense scale of the prehistoric period, and the
minutely organized world revealed through the microscope
were further stimulants, and he was much struck
by the inexhaustible fecundity of nature , and the mutations
and sports of organic form.
But if Redon found material for his vision in literature
and in science, it was from the poetry of the Symbolist
group that he derived at least a part of his method. The
Symbolists, under the leadership of that somewhat
sterile professor of aesthetics, Stephane Mallarme, were
at their height round 1885 In their poetic theories they
insisted on the obscure and the mysterious. Mallarme,
whom Redon knew well, preached the value of suggestion1
and in following thistenet, the artist was departing
strikingly from his contemporaries the Impressionists.
Monet and Renoir he admired and often defended but he found their art a little too explicit. He preferred the fragment,
the “half-word.” “My designs,” he was fond of
saying, “inspire and do not define.”
Mallarme decreed that a poem should have a chief
metaphor, and in Redon’s art you find at least three main
symbols. The first is the familiar “dream-face” of the
Romantics. Redon’s version is a curious, half-morbid
conception, with shallow forehead, large staring eyes,
and a mouth like a slit. He employs the same’profile to
illustrate Poe’s Lenore and in his plates of Folie and
Britnnhilde. Turned full face, with eyes hollowed out it
resolves itself into the features of Christ. Flowers, which
were to Redon, “half plant, half animal” he used for
their qualities of enigmatic life. His third symbol; that
of a horse with wings, represents material bodies lifted
to the heights by imagination. The tragedies of Bellerophon
and Phaeton result when material bodies are carried
away by the intoxication of the infinite. Closely connected
is another theory of the Symbolists, that poetry,
in Mallarme’s words, should be’allusive music.” Redon,
who was passionately fond of music, and particularly of
Berlioz and Beethoven, remarks, “My art places us like
music in a world indeterminate and ambiguous.” Symbolist
poetry, at its best, was called “symphonic”;
critics in speaking of Redon’s designs have more than
once referred to them by the same term.
All this shows that Redon was particularly involved
in the psychological attitudes of his time. Literature
furnished him with subjects, music and Symbolist poetry,
with a method. His art, psychologically considered,
sets in motion a series of memeries and allusions. “I call
romantic,” says Roger )U\”any work of art which to
produce its effect counts on the association of ideas which
it sets up in the mind of the spectator But it would be unfair to Redon to stop here, leaving
the impression that he was completely romantic. There
is another side to his art, as shown by his serious study
of form. ·’I call classical the work which to provoke
emotion depends on its own formal organization,’ ‘ continues
Roger Fry in the same definition. On his objective
side, Redon is certainly classical. Though he illustrated
Poe ·and Flaubert, it was to Montaigne and Saint-Simon
that he turned for his pleasure, and he once conceived
the project of an album for the Pensees of Pascal, who is
the master of the logical vision. He was not, in spite of
his connection with literature, a “literary” painter. Des
Esseintes, the hero of Huysmans’ A Rebours is made to
admire the work of Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon.
The contrast is significant. Moreau was a cold “literary”
draughtsman, and his plates of Salome and David are
heavy with the freight of romantic stage-setting. Any
formal sense is lost in the multiplication of antique detail.
In such a plate as his Orestes the eye wanders, lighting
on swinging lamps, marble urns, and inlaid pillars until
at last it seeks out the hero, fallen before a late Empire
fireplace .
Redon, from his study of music, doubtless early
realized the direct emotional effect of form. Even in his
automatic designing, he always subordinated, and kept
to a central plan. Etching he gave up, partly because it
was a medium that tempted him to extraneous detail.
Charcoal suited his plastic purpose better for it allowed
him to model his designs in tremendous contrasts. He
called his lithographs his “noirs ” because their whole
substance depended on black. “Black is the most important
color,” he wrote. “Nothing can prostitute it. ”
He made countless preliminary studies, experimenting
with different effects of black until the right dominant was reached. ‘ ‘Since the beginning I have always sought
for perfection in form.”
‘ His blacks were varied by certain effects of luminosity
which he took from the Impressionists. To the intense
dark, he added a scale of delicate grays, and it is a mixture
of these, with an occasional use of sudden white, that
gives Redan’s designs their direct, suggestive power. In
addition he possessed-perhaps from his study of architecture-a
sense of abstract line and pattern. This is not
unusual in a period which has the brilliant designing of
Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. But Redan ‘s patterns are
more three-dimensional than theirs. His simplest head,
modeled in extreme darks and lights and placed against
a background which by its subtle minglings of gray is
made to suggest infinite depth, has a remarkable spatial
quality. It is not so much a drawing as it is a painting
in charcoal for it has all the values of painting. At other·
times sparks of light weave a pattern out of immense
dusk . A dark, heavy profile is suddenly revealed against
light or a radiant mist surrounds and creates form out of
darkness. In discussing Redan’s psychology, we stressed
his reliance on WKHfragmentary. Certain of his forms are
unfinished, but their sense of modeling is so sure that the
eye readily supplies the rest. His illustration of Satan
and the Seven Deadly Sins for the WHQWDWLRQis a striking
example.
Not only. did Redan know how to model his figures
with surety but he knew the effect of asymmetry as well.
A motif, placed off-center, creates a different emotional
response than if it were placed exactly. There are a
series of plates in the present collection which show
Redan changing the plate again and again until the
proper pattern results. Certain Impressionists, following
the Japanese, were able by similar arrangement to gain a sense of vivacity and life, but Redan’s use is more consistent.
He did not care for the accidental movement, the
“staccato” impression which they were always trying
to catch. There are, however, certain recurring forms in
his designs which have special rhythms of their own. He
uses the circle, sometimes as a shining disk, sometimes as
a slowly turning wheel. Considered spatially it becomes
a sphere, an eye, or a balloon. It is frequently set into
whirling gyroscopic motion. Flowers, halos, and suns
revolve. Sometimes the edge of the design cuts the circle
to an arc; the eye is carried round, and an extension of
space has been gained. Another form, that of the diagonal
shaft, crosses the space like a search-light, carving
out interesting relations. Very important is the arabesque.
”Imagine arabesques,”wrote Redan, “or different
kinds of meanders unrolling, not RQa surface but in
space .” Again and again Redan has used this coiling or
uncoiling form, of which a remarkable example is found
in his design for the figure of Death.
By 1899 he had produced some one hundred and sixtyseven
lithographs and had been working in black and
white for twenty years. Occasionally he had printed
his plates on tinted papers and now the idea of resuming
color seems to have come to him. During his period of
self-imposed limitation he had fixed the forms of his art.
Now he was ready for oil, pastel and water-color. In
oil, he was hardly at his best; the radiance of his color
seems a little dimmed by the medium, but in watercolor
and particularly in pastel, he produced during
the last sixteen years of his life a remarkable series of
designs, choosing the classic myths, girls’ heads, or
flowers as subjects. “I took up pastel again with the
hope of giving more substance to my dreams,” he wrote .
Some of the flower pieces in which the ”dream-face” is likely to appear are among his masterpieces. The flowers
have become stiffened into design; the most ordinary
bouquet of anemones, geraniums, and field-daisies takes
on, under his manipulation, a certain eternal quality.
This is partly the result of his colors- he employs a
striking “orchestration” of prismatic green, orange,
violet and blue-and partly because he replaces the
usual Impressionist pastel, made up of threads of multiple
color, with tones contrasted in flat patterns and
delicately graded in themselves. In the exotic quality
of his flowers, Redon shows his romantic outlook; in the
precision of drawing and the balance of design, he is
classical.
But this was Redon’s genius: to combine the psychology
of his time with that feeling for form whic,h belongs
to all periods of art. Every great imaginative artist has
paid tribute to his age; El Greco’s pietistic fervors no
longer convince us; Blake’s angels often have a late
Georgian look; Albert Ryder’s nymphs are a little
Victorian, but the formal qualities in these men remain
to move us. This is the case with Odilon Redon; part
of him is already lost in the nineteenth century but part
of him belongs to art.

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