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

La barque aux deux femmes blanches

Details
Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
La barque aux deux femmes blanches
signed twice 'ODILON REDON' (lower right)
oil on canvas
13 x 16 3/8 in. (33 x 41.6 cm.)
Provenance
Andries Bonger, Paris (acquired from the artist, December 1904).
(possibly) Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger, Amsterdam (gift from the above).
Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York (January 1954).
Acquired from the above by the late owners, December 1954.
Literature
K. Berger, Odilon Redon, Fantasy and Colour, New York, 1965, p. 197, no. 216 (dated 1900).
M. Potter et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: European Works of Art, New York, 1984, vol. I, pp. 207-208, no. 67 (illustrated in color, p. 207; titled Sailboat).
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Fleurs et paysages, Paris, 1996, vol. III, p. 352, no. 1953 (illustrated).
Exhibited
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Paintings and Pastels by Odilon Redon, February-March 1959, p. 10, no. 5 (illustrated, p. 18; dated 1900).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau, Rodolphe Bresdin, December 1961-April 1962, p. 174, no. 39 (dated 1905 and titled The Sailboat).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Rousseau, Redon, and Fantasy, May-September 1968 (dated 1905).
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Lot Essay

Beautiful, peaceful ships, gently lifted by the eternal wave, you float in a friendly harbor. Your long leaning masts and their thin ropes strike the depth of the foggy sky and the breath of the air and the rhythm of the waves cradles the spirit like a gentle harmony.–Odilon Redon

"You are not wrong," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, "that all my days have been a dream. All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream" (from the poem A Dream within a Dream, published 1849). In 1882, Redon exhibited an album of drawings, etchings and lithographs which he titled and dedicated A Edgar Poe; several years later, the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, an admirer of both men, published an appreciation in which he bestowed upon Redon the honor of having become in his work "the prince of mysterious dreams" (quoted in Odilon Redon, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 145).
The present work depicts two women clad in white on a sailboat which moves into the distance in a dream-like setting, beneath a beautiful rainbow-colored sky. "The viewer immediately feels that the artist is concerned with more than just depicting boat trips or capturing natural impressions. This is suggested, among other things, by the focus of interest on the body of the boat, which dominates the figures like a work of frozen architecture. Redon’s boats are not at the mercy of the turbulent seas of Romanticism; instead, they float all but motionlessly on the water, no appreciable wind filling their sails. The surroundings evoke an all-encompassing ideality in metaphorical and poetic terms” (I. Jimborean, Odilon Redon, exh. cat., Fondation Beyeler, Basel, 2014, p. 108).
La barque aux deux femmes blanches is an iconic Redon seascape, the figures seemingly rapt in pensive silence, immersed in the radiance of inward visions, transported to distant unknowable realms on spectral currents of dream. Once Redon had turned to color in his work, by around 1893, the nightmarish and macabre side of his visions that had prevailed in his graphic work—rendered until then in black lithographic crayon and tenebrous charcoal—gave way to a more beatific revelation of the world. Through his use of vibrant tints of color, he made the mainstay of his new work a brilliant, otherworldly fluorescence of color by which he could conjure the fleeting essence of dreams.
The sensitively contemplative aspect so prominent in Redon's work derived from the exploratory proclivity for the mystical dimension in human aspiration, an assertion of idealism, which had become a preoccupation in French intellectual circles during the fin-de-siècle period. This phenomenon served as a spiritual counterweight to the wearying onslaught of positivist materialism in science and capitalist economics. Redon adroitly navigated an anti-naturalist milieu that had fostered the Symbolist movement, encompassing both the Catholic Revival and the lure of Eastern religions, literature and thought—for Redon, in particular, an interest in the life and thought of the Buddha—as well as certain spiritualist associations, such as Theosophy and Rosicrucianism, and other groups which immersed themselves in a widening fascination with esoterism, occultism and magic.
Redon remained throughout his career a resolutely inner-directed and stand-alone artist, placing the demands of art, and its own traditions, above all else in his life and work. For this reason he also dedicated time and effort to the welfare of his profession and colleagues; he was one of the co-founders of the Société des Indépendants, serving as its vice-president in 1884 for its debut exhibition. He contributed various subjects, including mysterious heads and a pair of landscapes, to the eighth and final Impressionist group exhibition of 1886; the critic Paul Adam did not fail to notice, of course, that "his genius, independent of all schools, bears no immediate relation to Impressionism" (quoted in The New Painting, Impressionism 1874-1886, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1986, p. 464).
“He is at the origin of all the aesthetic innovations or renovations, of all revolutions of taste that we have witnessed [since 1890]," Maurice Denis wrote of Redon in 1912. "He foresaw them, he even loved their excesses. As opposed to weighty systems that actually mask the absence of sensitivity for most young painters, Redon's lesson is his inability to paint anything that does not represent a state of the soul, that does not translate an interior vision." A decade later the Surrealists adopted Redon as a precursor. Henri Matisse admired "the purity and ardor of the tonalities of his palette." Even Marcel Duchamp, the early modernist who most thoroughly fostered the mind-set that has facilitated the art of our own era, paid tribute to "the prince of mysterious dreams”: "If I were to say what my own point of departure has been," he declared, "I should say it was the art of Odilon Redon" (quoted in J. Rewald, Studies in Post-Impressionism, New York, 1986, p. 240).

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