'A vase of flowers by Odilon Redon projects a protrusion of lanceolate, golden flowers onto the canvas, a kind of vegetal frenzy which merges, achieves a tenebrous zenith and returns, tumbling down in the form of a modest little poppy' (Colette, ‘Fleurs et fruits’, in Comoedia, 1942).
Odilon Redon's flowers are fascinating in that they occupy the space between reality and dream: ‘Flowers, lying at the confluence of two streams, that of representation and that of memory’, he wrote in his diary, A soi-même (Paris, 1985). Odilon Redon was deeply influenced by his friendship with botanist Armand Clavaud, who initiated him into science and literature, introducing him to Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, as well as pantheism and Oriental philosophy.
In Bouquet de fleurs, flowers merge into an incandescence of variegated colours. The floral composition, which is at once dense and light, is subtly balanced by the harmony of colour. The lilac light reflected by the vase is repeated, more intensely, in the bouquet. Odilon Redon plays on the effects of matter just as he plays on form, the essential aspect of art being, for him, ‘to always remain equivocal, with double, or triple aspects, hints of aspect, forms yet to be, or which shall be according to the spectator's frame of mind.’ (Ibid.)
The magic of Redon's art is to suggest, rather than express, ‘what is absent from any bunch of flowers’ in the words of his friend Stéphane Mallarmé. The painter removes any form of support and places his vase in an indefinable space, cut off from reality, as is the case in the present lot, where firmly contoured, brightly shaded flowers, appear to hover weightlessly as if in vaporous emptiness, lending the composition a fluid sense of space.
The critic Albert Flament, admiring the works of Odilon Redon at the Salon d'Automne in 1905, wrote: ‘M. Odilon Redon is a painter of flowers as they are seen in dreams. They do not flourish under the rays of the sun. Their middays are moonlight, they come from our nightmares... from oriental legends’ (Redon quoted by M.-A. Stevens in ‘Redon's artistic and critical position’, in Odilon Redon, Chicago, 1994, pp. 296-297).
Bouquet de fleurs’s provenance history is a testament to the quality and importance of the painting. Having been first with legendary Galerie Bernheim-Jeune (who presumably acquired it directly form the artist or his estate), it was later owned by Jos Hessel, renowned art collector, dealer and patron.
Purchased from the Swiss artist and art educator Charles Montag by major art collector Hans Mettler as early as 1918, it has since remained in the same family and it is offered today for the first time at auction, over one hundred years later.