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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Redon, Odilon


Woman with a Yellow Bodice
c.1899
Pastel on paper
66 x 50 cm
Museum Kroller-Mueller, Otterlo, The Netherlands

"My drawings inspire and are not to be defined. They determine nothing. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous world of the undetermined. They are a kind of metaphor." (Redon)

Bertrand-Jean Redon, better known as Odilon Redon (1840 - 1916), French, was one of the outstanding figures of Symbolism. He studied under Jean-Leon Gerome; mastered engraving from Rodolphe Bresdin, who exerted an important influence; and learned lithography under Henri Fantin-Latour.
Redon's aesthetic was one of imagination rather than visual perception. His imagination found an intellectual catalyst in his close friend, the Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme. He had a retiring life, first in his native Bordeaux, then in Paris, and until he was in his fifties he worked almost exclusively in black and white, in charcoal drawings and lithographs. There is an evident link to Goya in Redon’s imagery of winged demons and menacing shapes.

Redon produced nearly 200 prints, beginning in 1879 with the lithographs collectively titled In the Dream. He completed another series dedicated to Edgar Allan Poe, whose poems had been translated into French with great success by Mallarme and Charles Baudelaire. Rather than illustrating Poe, Redon’s lithographs are poems in visual terms, themselves evoking the poet’s world of private torment.
Redon remained virtually unknown to the public until the publication of J.K. Huysmans's novel A Rebours in 1884; the book's hero who lives in a private world of perverse delights, collects Redon's drawings, and with his mention in this classic expression of decadence, Redon too became associated with the movement.

Redon's aim was to represent pictorially the ghosts of his own mind. His work represents an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche. He himself wanted to place the visible at the service of the invisible. Well before the Surrealists, he focused on his inner world, on the fantastic, some-times frightening, and always mysterious creatures of his imagination, to evoke a realm of dreams, distant memories, and indefinable emotions.
Much of his early life had been unhappy, but after undergoing a religious crisis and a serious illness, he was transformed into a much more buoyant and cheerful personality, expressing himself in radiant colors in mythological scenes and flower paintings. The flower pieces, in particular, were much admired by Matisse, and the Surrealists regarded Redon as one of their precursors. He was a distinguished figure by the end of his life, although still a very private person.
Redon occupies a major place in the history of modern art, not only for the intrinsic beauty of his works, but also and perhaps most importantly for the daring quality of his imagination.
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