ODILON REDON (1840-1916)
ODILON REDON (1840-1916)
ODILON REDON (1840-1916)
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ODILON REDON (1840-1916)

Caïn et Abel

ODILON REDON (1840-1916)
Caïn et Abel
signed 'ODILON REDON' (lower left)
pastel on toned paper
31 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (80.4 x 59.6 cm.)
(probably) Ary Leblond, Paris (circa 1950).
Anon. sale, Trianon Palace, Versailles, 10 June 1964, lot 89.
Anon. sale, Sotheby & Co., London, 23 June 1965, lot 108.
Private collection, Paris (1991); sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 29 March 1993, lot 18.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
World Collectors Annuary, vol. XVI, 1964, no. 3677.
World Collectors Annuary, vol. XVII, 1965, no. 3729.
S.R. Harrison, The Etchings of Odilon Redon: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1986, p. xl (illustrated, p. xlii, fig. 12).
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Portraits et figures, Paris, 1992, vol. I, p. 220, no. 558 (illustrated).
(probably) Paris, Galerie Charpentier, Autour de 1900, 1950, no. 145 (dated 1885).
New York, Cueto Projects, The Flowers of Evil Still Bloom, November 2008-January 2009.
Nassau County Museum of Art, Blue, July-November 2020, p. 14 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

The present pastel is Redon’s beautiful rendering of the Cain and Abel story. Christian imagery rarely appeared in his early work. However, during the 1890s Redon responded to the Catholic revival that emerged in France during the previous decade and remained a powerful force in the nation's cultural life until the First World War. Conservative Catholics sought to counter the increasing secularization and anticlericalism in French society following the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1872 and opposed the tendency of intellectuals to place blind trust in science and Positivism. During the late 1870s Redon frequented the salon of Berthe de Rayssac, where religious anti-republicanism was in a germinative stage, and although his own liberal ideas often clashed with the reactionary views of his host and her circle of writers and artists, he was interested in their anti-Realist stance, which became the foundation for literary Symbolism. Biblical imagery and myths were an added source from which the artist could draw from and explore his general interest in spirituality.
Redon had many close friends who figured in the Catholic revival, which in the arts diverged into two contrasting camps. On one side there was the gentle and benign conception of faith to which the poet and playwright Paul Claudel and the painters Emile Bernard and Maurice Denis were drawn. At the more extremist and ascetic end of the spectrum were the writers Leon Bloy and J.K. Huysmans. All were admirers of Redon's work; the artist felt (referring to Bernard) that 'it is always these sorts of people who make me feel that my work has been best understood' (quoted in D.W. Druick & P.K. Zegers, exh. cat., Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 209).
Although one might expect that the introduction of Christian imagery into Redon's work would signal a more austere and anti-sensualist stance in his outlook, the opposite is true: it prompted him to step away from his noirs and use color in his pictures. He did so by employing the more painterly media of pastel and oil. Additionally, Redon was perhaps now inclined to use religious imagery because it broadened the appeal of his works, an aim that he hoped his use of new media and color would also accomplish. In contrast to the imagery of his earlier noirs, which was often esoteric and occasionally hinted at Satanic themes, Christian subjects would be met with greater understanding and sympathy among a wider audience. As a result, Redon exhibited religious subjects in each of his major exhibitions during the 1890s and into the next century.

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