ODILON REDON (1840-1916)
Le pavot noir
signed 'ODILON REDON' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 3/4 x 21 1/4 in. (73 x 54 cm.)
Louis Bernard, France.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris (acquired from the above, September 1916).
Bernheim-Jeune Fils, Paris (acquired from the above, March 1918).
Prince Antoine Bibesco, Paris (circa 1934).
Private collection, France (by 1994); sale, Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1995, lot 9.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty at the above sale.
L'art moderne et quelques aspects de l'art d'autrefois, Paris, 1919, vol. II, p. 96 (illustrated, pl. 100; titled Fleurs).
R. Bacou, Odilon Redon, Geneva, 1956, vol. II, p. 56 (illustrated, pl. 84).
K. Berger, Odilon Redon, Fantasy and Colour, London, 1964, p. 201, no. 272 (titled Vase with Black Poppy (Vase 26) and dated circa 1905).
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, fleurs et paysages, Paris, 1996, vol. III, p. 177, no. 1642 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, Odilon Redon, February-March 1934, p. 14, no. 29 (dated 1895).
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Voici des fruits, des fleurs, des feuilles et des branches: Au profit de la sauvegarde de Versailles et sous les auspices de la chronique de Versailles, May-June 1957, no. 49 (titled Bouquet de fleurs).
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Odilon Redon: Au profit de l'Orphelinat des Arts, May-July 1963, no. 8 (titled Vase de fleurs).
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, La Douce France, August-October 1964, p. 80, no. 53 (illustrated, p. 81; titled Vase de fleurs).
Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., La guirlande de Julie, May-June 1967, no. 67 (titled Fleurs dans un vase vert and dated 1910).

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Lot Essay

Likely painted circa 1905, Le pavot noir emerged during a key period of transition in Odilon Redon’s career, as he focused increasingly on floral still-lifes in his work, using their luscious blooms to explore the power of color. Echoing the natural arrangement of wild blossoms in a meadow, the bouquets favored by the artist embodied the essential beauty of the natural world that so captivated Redon. As he explained: “I do not know of anything that has given me more pleasure than such an appreciation of simple flowers in their vase breathing air” (quoted in Odilon Redon, 1840-1916, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 294). As suggested by the title, the present bouquet is dominated by the appearance of the unusual black poppy on the right hand side, its large, velvety petals unfurled in an almost perfect circle, lending great drama to the composition. A small butterfly drifts upwards towards the bright blooms, drawn to their vibrant, vivacious tones, which Redon captures in a variety of brushstrokes, conveying the individual textures, shapes and hues of each flower and piece of greenery. The abundant arrangement is made up of a collection of summer wild flowers, gathered together in a lustrous green vase in a haphazard, organic formation, their blossoms almost ready to spill over the edges of the delicate container that houses them.
The extensive series of flower paintings, both in oil and pastel, which began to emerge in Redon’s work during the late 1890s and early 1900s marked a distinctive turning point in the artist’s oeuvre. Up to this point, the artist had enjoyed a considerable reputation for his mysterious works on paper, most notably his exquisite, haunting charcoal drawings known as “noirs” and his enigmatic lithographs. However, as the new century dawned, Redon sought to expand the market for his art, and began to explore a different path in his work—color became his chief focus, and flowers, “those fragile perfumed beings, exquisite prodigies of light,” as the artist described them, were the ideal subject for his new vision (To Myself: Notes on Life, Art and Artists, New York, 1986, p. 114). Le pavot noir is a prime example of the spirit of experimentation and bold, effusive approach to color that defined Redon’s work during the opening decade of the twentieth century, as he sought to combine the traditions of the still life genre with his own idiosyncratic creative outlook.
By removing all details and references to the setting in which these flowers exist, Redon conjures a fluid sense of space, allowing the vase and its contents to almost float ethereally against the gently variegated ground, the colors of the blooms all the more startling against the subtle tones of the surrounding space. While this effect lends the composition a somewhat dreamy quality, the delicate rendering of the flowers grounds the scene in reality, revealing Redon’s keen skills of observation and deep understanding of the natural world. Having spent much of his youth fascinated by the eternal rhythms of the Medoc countryside in which he lived, his appreciation of nature was enhanced even further through his friendship with the botanist Armand Clavaud, who opened his eyes to the inherent mysteries and imperceptible processes that underpinned plants, flowers and other living organisms. “My most fertile technique,” the artist explained, “and the one most necessary to my development, I have often said it, was to copy directly from the real while attentively reproducing objects from nature’s most ordinary, most special and most accidental characteristics. After trying to copy minutely a pebble, a blade of grass, a hand, a human profile or any other example of living or inorganic forms, I experience the onset of a mental excitement; at that point I need to create, to give myself over to representations of the imaginary. Thus blended and infused, Nature becomes my source, my yeast, and my leaven” ("Confidences d’Artiste" in L’art moderne, 25 August 1894, vol. 14, no. 34, p. 269).
However, it is Redon’s daring, vivid use of color in paintings such as Le pavot noir, where the flowers are rendered in a rich array of luminous, almost unreal, tones that seem to dance before the eye, that the true focus of his creative energies at this time is revealed. As the artist so eloquently explained, “If the art of an artist is the song of his life, a solemn or sad melody, I must have hit a happy note in color” (quoted in op. cit., 1994, p. 288). Among the young painters most influenced by this shift into color in Redon’s work was Henri Matisse, who as early as 1900 had acquired examples of his pastels for both his father and his own personal collection, including La mort de Bouddha (Wildenstein, no. 2604). Indeed, the sculptor Aristide Maillol reported “Matisse is obsessed with Redon. He buys as much of it as he can,” while Christian Zervos would later describe Matisse’s deep appreciation for Redon’s “pure, expressive color” (quoted in Odilon Redon, exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2014, p. 16). Redon’s example would prove crucial to Matisse’s own pursuit of a new chromatic intensity and freedom during his Fauve years, with floral still lifes such as Les Pivoines (1907, Private collection) displaying a clear affinity with Redon’s flower paintings.

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