Monday 20 April 2020


That strange artist Odilon Redon was born on this day 180 years ago. He first came to public attention thanks to J.K. Huysmans' decadent classic A Rebours (Against the Grain / Against Nature). In it Huysmans describes a number of mysterious drawings by Redon, concluding 'These drawings defied classification; unheeding, for the most part, of the limitations of painting, they ushered in a very special type of the fantastic, one born of sickness and delirium.'
  Much of Redon's work does indeed defy classification, especially his visionary works Les Noirs, rendered entirely in shades of black. However, from the 1890s he favoured oils and pastels and his works became more accessible – especially his flower paintings. The one above is Bouquet in a Vase. It hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is characteristic in its strong, contrasting colours massed together non-naturalistically against a subdued, vaguely mysterious background.
  Redon's flower paintings never feel as if they've been painted from life, as if the artist is content to engage with what is before his eyes: rather he is looking through the flowers to something else – that something probably being his own psyche. His aim, he said, was 'to place the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible'. He believed that his works 'place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined'. This approach stands in complete contrast to that of Edouard Manet (whose flowers last turned up here on Saturday), who was content to show what wonders could be achieved through intense attention to what was present before his eyes, allied to prodigious painterly ability. The mystery of the world, as Oscar Wilde said, is in the visible, not the invisible. For all their mystical aspirations, Redon's flower paintings seem merely decorative when compared with those late masterpieces of Manet. Manet's flowers are emphatically there; Redon's seem more like figments.

1 comment:

  1. I first made my acquaintance with Roy Hudd in those b & W TV days while watching That Was The Week That Was and found him very amusing. Mr Hudd, as one might expect, is quite music hallish here as opposed to Jeremy Irons who is probably imagining himself to be playing in a Uni folk club. Never thought of Mr Irons as a singer but I enjoyed his rendition.