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

Bouquet de fleurs

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Bouquet de fleurs
signed 'ODILON REDON' (lower right)
pastel on paper laid down on board
Sight size: 19 3/8 x 24¾ in. (49.3 x 62.9 cm.)
Mme Meyer-Lippman, Paris.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (circa 1969).
Seibu Gallery, Japan.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1970.
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1996, vol. III, p. 171, no. 1630 (illustrated).
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, Exposition rétrospective d'oeuvres d'Odilon Redon, May-June 1920.
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., European Masters, 1969, p. 110, no. 54 (illustrated in color, p. 111; titled Fleurs dans un vase bleu and dated 1912-1916).
Kamakura, Museum of Modern Art and Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Exposition Odilon Redon, September-November 1973, no. 26 (illustrated, pl. 26).
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art and Kofu, Yamanashi Departmental Museum of Art, Odilon Redon, March-August 1980, no. 29 (illustated in color).
Takasaki, Gunma Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Odilon Redon, April-May 1982, no. 18 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Redon turned sixty in 1900, and in marking the advent of the 20th century he had already embarked on a new, more ambitious phase in his work. Having regularly contributed small numbers of charcoal drawings (which he called his "noirs") and prints to group exhibitions during the early and middle periods of his career, Redon received long-due recognition on a larger scale from the retrospective that Galerie Durand-Ruel gave him in the spring of 1894, comprised mainly of these selfsame works, together with some oil paintings and pastels. Redon then engaged in a campaign to create and show more work in color. Vollard showed thirteen pastels in 1898, and Durand-Ruel featured seven more in an exhibition the following year. "I am working as always with great joy in my pastels," Redon wrote in January 1900 to his friend Andries Bonger. "And they are pleasing, people want them, and they take them from me as soon as they are made" (quoted in D. Druick et al., Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 258). He was then preparing for his next Durand-Ruel show that spring, which would consist of works in color only--fourteen pastels and twenty oils--the sole exhibition so constituted during his lifetime. Vollard held a further show devoted to pastels and drawings the following year.

The present Bouquet de fleurs, probably drawn after 1905, is unusually expansive in the artist's treatment of a varied floral display, one of a group of a half-dozen works in which Redon employed the same large globular blue vase (Wildenstein, nos. 1629-1634). In works of this kind Redon was re-orientating his art to concentrate on--as in the poet Mallarmé's Symbolist view--the purity of its means. Responding to the decorative theories of Denis and the youthful Nabi brotherhood, as well as to Signac and his neo-Impressionist circle's research into scientific color theory, Redon now made the employment of color his primary expressive means; he was often attracted to subject matter for the possibilities it offered him in pursuing this new fascination with chromatic experimentation. For these purposes floral arrangements were ideal, and were moreover especially well-suited to showing off the iridescent tints of pastel. This delicate medium for drawing in color, which first came into wide use among French portraitists of the mid-18th century, assumed in Redon's hand a vigorously modern aspect which yielded dazzling and sumptuous effects, much as Degas had also been doing, although the latter's late pastels were still largely unknown at this time.

Redon and his wife maintained an extensive garden on the property of their country residence in Bièvres from which the artist drew inspiration and often selected the very flowers he arranged and depicted in his compositions--the artist described these blossoms as "fragile perfumed beings, exquisite prodigies of light" (M. Jacob and J.L. Wasserman, eds., Odilon Redon: To Myself, Notes on Life, Art and Artists, New York, 1986, p. 114). Redon's subtle orchestration of such luxuriant displays--often veering toward rapturous invention, incorporating, as Klaus Berger observed, "choice flowers of fantasy no gardener ever saw"--set the stage for the great decorations that he executed during his final decade. "The flower-pieces," Berger stated, "constitute the red thread running through his late art" (Odilon Redon: Fantasy and Colour, London, 1965, pp. 88 and 90).

Success in Redon's exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in 1904, and at Durand-Ruel in 1906, stemmed largely from the inclusion of sizable contingents of floral compositions, and brought the artist the highest yearly income he had ever derived from his work. More than half of the lots included in an auction of Redon's work at Hôtel Drouot in 1907 were flower pieces, which yielded excellent results. This sale attracted many new admirers and resulted in commissions for large decorative ensemble works, securing Redon's reputation then and in perpetuity as an artist of rare imagination and exquisite refinement, as both the famous author of the mysterious early noirs, and latterly an acknowledged master of color as well. "I like my art more and more," Redon wrote to Bonger on 1909. "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 exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, p. 288).

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