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


Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
signed 'ODILON REDON' (lower right)
charcoal and graphite on buff paper laid down at the edges on board
16 3/8 x 14 5/8 in. (41.7 x 37.2 cm.)
K. Berger, Odilon Redon, Fantasy and Colour, New York, 1965, p. 225, no. 584a (titled Winged Head on the Capital of a Column; dated circa 1880).
K. Berger, "Odilon Redon dans les collections japonaises," L'Oeil, no. 132, December 1965, p. 34, fig. 12 (illustrated).
Bijutsu-Techo, January 1968 (illustrated).
M. Kuroe, "Odilon Redon dans les collections japonaises," Bulletin annuel du musée national d'Art occidental, Tokyo, 1969, p. 5, no. 2 (illustrated).
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1994, vol. II, p. 201, no. 1136 (illustrated).
D.W. Druick et al, Odilon Redon Prince of Dreams, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago; Amsterdam, van Gogh Museum, and London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1994-1995, p. 451, no. 63 (André Mellerio Redon Chronology; titled Tête ailée sur un chapiteau, dated 1877).
Tokyo, Galerie Kyuryudo, Odilon Redon, 1954.
Nagoya, Chunichi Journal, Paul Cézanne, Auguste Renoir, Odilon Redon, May 1966, p. 49, no. 12 (illustrated).
Kamakura, Kanagawa Musée d'Art moderne, and Nagoya, Musée départmental d'Aichi, Exposition Odilon Redon, September-November 1973, no. 31 (illustrated, pl. 31).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art; Kobe, The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, and Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Odilon Redon, March-July 1989, no. 63 (illustrated in color, p. 61).

Lot Essay

Mercury (known as Hermes in the Greek pantheon) was the son of Zeus and Maia, the most beautiful of the sisters known as the Pleiades. He was a prodigious child, playful, winning and exceedingly bright. According to the anonymous seventh century BC Homeric hymn dedicated to him, Mercury was born at dawn, at noon played the lyre, and that same evening he stole the cattle of Apollo. As a result of the latter he was fabled for his mischief, and in the pastoral society of ancient Greece he became the patron deity of shepherds and their flocks, and vagabonds and thieves. His chief function was to serve Zeus as his messenger, and in this way, disguised, he had frequent contact with mortal humans. He was the bearer of dreams. He wore a winged cap and sandals, and carried a caduceus, a rod entwined with two serpents. He was connected with many human activities related to communication and physical movement, such as travel, commerce, wrestling and other gymnastic exercises.

The Greeks greatly admired Mercury's cleverness. He shared many attributes with the handsome Apollo, the god of knowledge and light, but was perceived as being younger and more boyish, which invited toleration for his antics. Mercury was also a fertility figure, and in this regard he was the bringer of good luck. Most Greek households placed a small statue of him, known as a Herm, near their door. A head of the god was mounted on top of a pillar, on which male genitalia were prominently depicted. His fertility function, connected to the eternal cycles of birth and death, is also seen in his role as psychopompos, guide to souls, which he conveys after death to the underworld.

The present drawing shows Redon's extensive knowledge of classical mythology, and his own adaptations of this imagery. In a manner typical of this artist, the head of Mercury is disembodied, to emphasize his intellectual abilities. The disk-shaped form behind his head is probably the tilted back rim of his metal helmet. Executed in graphite, it has a slightly metallic sheen in contrast to the matte charcoal employed elsewhere in the drawing. This shape may also be intended to represent the disc of the sun, the symbol of Apollo and his wisdom, although Redon has darkened it to reflect Mercury's mischievous character, or in relation to his role as psychopompos. As in an ancient Greek Herm, the head is mounted atop a pillar. Redon introduces his own modification by replacing Mercury's ears with the wings that are normally attached to his helmet or sandals. The winged head is one of Redon's best known images, and may be seen in other contexts (cf. Wildenstein, nos. 1123-1125, 1129-1131 and 1135).

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