Redon began to work frequently in pastel after 1895, and was confident that his most dedicated clientele, who were ardent collectors of his black-and-white ("noir") drawings, would be receptive to his new drawings in color. In March 1899 he exhibited seven pastels, as well as several charcoal drawings and an oil painting, in a group exhibition at Galerie Durand-Ruel that featured works of the Nabi artists and other Post-Impressionists. All of the pastels were sold, and their marketability encouraged Redon to experiment further.
This new interest in drawing with color coincided with an increasing appearance of floral imagery in Redon's works. Indeed, the pure and varied colors of flowers, which Redon called "admirable prodigies of light" (quoted in M. Wilson, Nature and Imagination: The Work of Odilon Redon, London, 1978, p. 76), were an ideal basis for Redon's experimentation with color in both pastels and oil paints. While his renderings of flowers eventually approach a degree of vivid lushness one might find in a tropical greenhouse, his subjects were ordinary garden and field varieties, and in fact he liked to cut them himself in a garden he and his wife tended on their property in Bièvres. Rather than paint gardens outdoors as Monet liked to do, Redon preferred to "remove" his flowers from nature, and place them in a vase on a table or mantel. The vases themselves were often examples created by a friend, the Russian-born potter Marie Botkin.
While he was careful to depict his noir subjects in believable settings and articulated space, the flower pastels contain only hints of real space, and soon dispense with these altogether. In many of the floral pastels he uses the paper color as a ground (as in the present work), creating a flat space against which to contrast the delicate strokes of the pastel sticks. In the oil paintings the use of built-up pigments lends the flowers a certain degree of corporeality. The pastels, on the other hand, with the airy, fleeting effects so typical of the medium, approach more closely the Chinese or Japanese model of depicting nature in a stylized manner within a decorative context.
"By late 1904, such still lifes became his major focus. At the 1904 Salon d'Automne, this subject constituted nearly one-fourth of the sixty works he exhibited. Writing to Francis James, Redon's friend and collector Arthur Fontaine reported that the artist was very happy, because the public was 'snatching up [his] pastels.' The increased prestige and income he experienced that year were tempered by his concern that he might be considered only 'a painter of flowers.' Nonetheless he did not let this stop him in 1906 from dedicating most of an exhibition at Durand-Ruel to floral pastels and paintings, a deliberate marketing strategy that was highly successful" (G. Groom, "The Late Work," Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 1994, p. 324).