Redon worked almost exclusively in black for the first twenty five years of his career, first focusing on prints and later devoting himself to oneiric charcoal drawings. It is to the latter series, commonly referred to as the noirs, that Profil de femme belongs. Drawn primarily in the early 1890s, these drawings exhibit a virtuosic understanding of the expressive potential of darkness and shadows. "In focusing on shadow and darkness, Redon hoped, he wrote, to provoke in 'the spectator a sort of diffuse but powerful attraction to the obscure world of the indeterminate, and to set him thinking," (J. Hauptman, Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon, exh. cat., New York, 2005, p. 28). It is in the world of the noirs that Redon's evocative fantasies reach their visual apex, buoyed by the inconceivable depth and visual differentiation achieved in the use of monochrome.
As Jodi Hauptman, the Associate Curator for the recent exhibition of Redon drawings at the Museum of Modern Art has remarked: "Redon took up lithography and charcoal drawing in the context of developing interest at the time in the graphic arts, but in his noirs he pushed the use of black further than his contemporaries, stretching color (or noncolor) and meaning to their very limits. The artist was able to create astounding variations through his choices of charcoal, from the warmer-toned oiled type that adheres more easily to paper to the newly available manufactured version that came in a range of colors and degrees of hardness and compression. Redon was also able to multiply charcoal's effects in the way he chose to use it, from baring down on the sheet with the stick's point to turning it on its side, from wiping the powdery medium across the paper with his hand or a rag to using a stump (a rolled-up piece of paper) to pound the crystals down. To vary the black's texture, tonal values, and hue even further, Redon added black chalk primarily as an outlining device and black pastel to intensify velvety surface effects" (ibid.). Redon's effortless intermingling of real subjects and fantastical settings, evident here in the arbitrarily elevated growth of the landscape and dangling flowers around the perimeter of the sheet, combines with his prodigious manipulation of charcoal to endow his works with a visionary sense of subtly spectacular possibilities.