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

Vase de fleurs

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Vase de fleurs
signed 'ODILON REDON' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 x 19¾ in. (61.1 x 50.1 cm.)
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune et Cie., Paris.
Mme Serrière, Paris (circa 1920).
Galerie André Maurice, Paris.
Georges Schlee, New York (acquired from the above, December 1949).
Valentina Schlee, New York (by descent from the above, circa 1964); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 15 May 1990, lot 34.
Acquired by the present owner, circa 1990.
A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1996, vol. III, p. 181, no. 1652 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, Exposition rétrospective d'oeuvres d'Odilon Redon, May-June 1920, no. 82 (titled Fleurs).

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Lot Essay

Redon began his major series of flower paintings, both in oil and pastel, after 1900, when he was in his sixties. These pictures provided a welcome respite from the fantastic but often bizarre and darkly troubling visions that had preoccupied him in his earlier works, especially those charcoal drawings he called his noirs and similar lithographs. "All tensions relaxed... The demons have retired," Klaus Berger observed (Odilon Redon, New York, 1965, p. 88). 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 began to approach his art from a new orientation, in which he concentrated on the purity of its means, partaking of the poet Mallarmé's Symbolist view that one should indulge art for its own sake. The treatment of color became his primary concern, and subject matter now interested him mainly in terms of the possibilities it offered him for pursuing his new fascination with chromatic experimentation. For these purposes floral subjects were ideal, just as they had been earlier for Henri Fantin-Latour, the best known flower painter of the late 19th century.

Armand Clavaud, a botanist and long-time friend and mentor, encouraged Redon's interest in flowers and natural history. The artist and his wife maintained an extensive garden on the property of their country residence in Bièvres from which he drew inspiration and often selected the very flowers he arranged and depicted in his compositions; Redon described these blossoms as "fragile perfumed beings, exquisite prodigies of light" (quoted in A soi-même; trans. M. Jacob and J.L. Wasserman, To Myself: Notes on Life, Art and Artists, New York, 1986, p. 114). Having noted Fantin-Latour's financial success with this genre, Redon was moreover drawn to flower subjects because of their salability; during this time he desperately needed to pay off his share of the large debt owed on his deceased parents' family property at Peyrelebade, in the Gironde region, before it could be sold. But most importantly, Redon's production of floral still-lifes became stepping stones to the great decorations that he executed during his final decade. "The flower-pieces," Berger has pointed out, "constitute the red thread running through his late art" (op. cit., p. 88).

Floral subjects were well suited to the vibrant tints of pastel, a medium Redon had employed with increasing frequency since the mid-1890s, and to the tactile quality of brushed oil paints, which finally assumed a prominent role in his late pictures. Some of the flower compositions are relatively naturalistic, incorporating a table-top setting and a defined spatial context; in others, such as the present painting, Redon depicted the bouquet and vase in a flattened, unspecified space, in which his arrangement takes on a dreamy presence, while evoking the decorative aspect he prized in Asian art. Berger wrote that "Japanese coloured woodcuts helped Redon to gain his freedom. The great bunches of wild flowers of these years display simultaneously a degree of symphonic richness and harmonic purity never seen before in his work" (ibid., p. 90).

Success in exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in 1904, and Galerie Durand-Ruel in 1906, came largely from the inclusion of sizable contingents of floral compositions, and brought Redon 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 floral still-lifes, most of which were sold; the proceeds enabled the artist to finally erase his share of the family debt. This sale attracted many new admirers and resulted in commissions for large decorative schemes, securing Redon's reputation then and for perpetuity as an artist of rare imagination and exquisite refinement, the famous author of the singular early noirs, and lately a master of color as well. He wrote to his collector Andries Bonger: "I like my art more and more... 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 D. Druick et al., Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 288).

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