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Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
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Odilon Redon (1840-1916)

Fleurs

Details
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Fleurs
signed ‘ODILON REDON’ (lower left)
pastel on blue paper
24 3/8 x 18 ¾ in. (62 x 47.7 cm.)
Provenance
Gustave Fayet, Béziers, France (before 1925).
Alfred Lambert, Paris.
Jacques Dubourg, Paris (acquired from the above, 1958).
Jacques Lindon, Paris (acquired from the above).
M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, July 1958.
Literature
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 210-211, no. 69 (illustrated in color, p. 210).
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1996, vol. III, p. 119, no. 1534 (illustrated).
Exhibited
(possibly) New York, M. Knoedler & Co. Inc., Still Life: Flowers by Odilon Redon, 1958.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Loan Exhibition: Odilon Redon, For the Benefit of the Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, October-November 1970, no. 6 (illustrated; dated circa 1903).
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Lot Essay

Drawing with the vivid tints of his pastel sticks, Redon imbued the present Fleurs with an abundance of ecstatic lyricism that transcends the representation of natural appearances, to a degree characteristically his own, but until then unprecedented in the traditions of this genre. The artist regales the viewer with exquisite hybrids of his own imagining—“choice flowers of fantasy no gardener ever saw,” as Klaus Berger would describe them (Odilon Redon, New York, 1965, p. 90). Evoking only the merest suggestion of corporeal substance, Redon’s blossoms burst open as dazzling figments seen in the mind’s eye, manifest as evanescent flashes of pure color, the organic life-force transmuted into light.
Redon began his late series of flower paintings, both in oil and pastel, after 1900, when he was in his sixties. He was inclined to move away from the darkness of the troubling visions that had preoccupied him in his hauntingly sinister charcoal drawings, which he called his “noirs”, and lithographs. “The demons have retired,” Berger observed (ibid., p. 88). Responding to the decorative theories of the young Nabi artists—Bernard, Bonnard, Sérusier, Vallotton, and Vuillard—and to the growing fascination with scientific color theory initiated by Seurat and the Neo-Impressionists, Redon began to approach natural motifs from the Symbolist point-of-view of art for its own sake. Capitalizing on the brilliant purity of his medium, Redon relished the opportunity for subjective expression. Color became the artist’s chief focus; he was drawn to subjects chiefly for the possibilities they offered him in pursuing his desire for chromatic experimentation and effects. Flowers, “those fragile perfumed beings, exquisite prodigies of light,” as Redon described them, were the ideal subject for his latest efforts" (To Myself: Notes on Life, Art and Artists, New York, 1986, p. 114).
The botanist Armand Clavaud, Redon’s long-time friend and mentor, encouraged the artist’s interest in flowers and natural history. Redon and his wife maintained an extensive garden on the property of their country residence in Bièvres, from which he drew continual inspiration. The Impressionists had treated the floral still-life as an occasional subject; Cézanne and Van Gogh, however, made flowers a significant theme in their still-life paintings, more frequently encountered in exhibitions from 1900 onwards. Redon also noted Fantin-Latour’s success with this genre; the wide demand for and the consistent salability of floral subjects were a considerable incentive. More importantly, however, Redon’s enthusiasm for painting flowers lay within the larger field of his evolving interests; his innovative essays in this genre became the bridge between his earlier works on paper and the great decorations that he painted in his final decade. “The flower-pieces,” Berger declared, “constitute the red thread running through his late art" (op. cit., 1965, p. 88).
Before 1905, Redon generally depicted both flowers and vases in a straightforward, naturalistic manner, showing a conventional sense of space defined by shadows and the clear indication of supporting surfaces, such as a table-top or mantelpiece. In the subsequent phase, which lasted for the next several years, the artist moved well beyond the delicate realism of Fantin-Latour, and even the practice of the Impressionists, who had treated color in floral subjects as an observable light-effect. Redon instead rendered flowers in an increasingly decorative and fantasy-like manner, showing the influence of Asian art. “Japanese colored woodcuts helped Redon to gain his freedom,” Berger explained. “The great bunches of wild flowers of these years display simultaneously a degree of symphonic richness and harmonic purity never seen before in his work” (ibid., p. 90). Floral works of the final phase, from around 1908 until the artist’s death in 1916, display a synthesis of both naturally derived and invented elements, an approach that offered the artist the widest variety of visual effects, from which he could choose as freely as his imagination might inspire him.
The effusive, pyrotechnic treatment of the blossoming motifs suggests that this pastel Fleurs was likely created during the final phase in this stylistic profile. The shifting, ambiguous sense of space within this composition is unusually complex for Redon. To the table-top foreground and upper periphery of the sheet—the latter displaying a leaf design wallpaper—Redon imparted flatness in the Japanese decorative manner. The flowers are like galaxies throwing off energy and light into the surrounding cosmic expanse. The concentrated application of black pastel suggests a deep, mysterious void behind the vase, which serves to accentuate its shapely contours, lending the object a relative degree of solidity not apparent elsewhere in the composition. The poet Stéphane Mallarmé found in Redon’s pictures “a charming game in which the imprecise is associated with the precise” (quoted in ibid.).
The Wildenstein catalogue has noted that the vase seen in the present Fleurs was the creation of ceramicist Maria Botkin, a friend of the artist; it was itself decorated with a fanciful and virtually abstract floral design, which Redon has suggested with interlacing strokes of pastel. This vase also appears in other paintings and pastels (Wildenstein, nos. 1526-1533 and 1535-1536). As Berger has observed, “at this stage [Redon] elaborates his compositions out of a coalescence of color and graphic elements…With the imagination of the artist we see these flowers as if we have never perceived them before; they are here revealed to us in their reality and introduced to us in their essence as colors, as forms, as order, as organisms. In a different way they are just as mysterious as the dramatic charcoal drawings of the past” (ibid., p. 91).
The first owner of this pastel was Gustave Fayet, a wealthy vintner from Béziers and a painter himself, who became a notable collector of late 19th century and early modern art. Redon met Fayet in 1899; they became close friends after Fayet acquired a Paris residence in 1904. The collector owned paintings by Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and especially Gauguin—the organizers of the latter’s commemorative retrospective at the 1906 Salon d’Automne drew heavily on his holdings. Fayet was drawn initially to Redon’s earlier drawings (“noirs”) and lithographs, and went on to acquire a number of the artist’s late color works. He commissioned Redon to execute pastel portraits of his wife and daughters (Wildenstein, nos. 92-95). Having purchased and restored the Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide near Narbonne, Fayet invited the artist in 1908 to provide murals for the library, the largest and most elaborate compositions Redon ever created (nos. 2556/1-3). After this time Fayet added only works by Redon to his collection; he owned around a hundred of the artist’s pictures at the time of his death in 1925.

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