The « Silent Nature » of Odilon Redon: Konstantina Moschou

Paysage de VeniseAs part of the national celebrations for the 100th anniversary of his death, the Bordeaux Fine Arts Museum proposed to pay tribute to the painter Odilon Redon by producing an exhibition (December 2016-March 2017) which considered the issue of landscape in the artist’s paintings and drawings.

Odilon Redon was a French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and pastellist. He was born in Bordeaux on April 20thArbre sur fond jaune 1840 but whereas he was a contemporary of the Impressionists and participated in their last exhibition in 1886, his art was not related to any of their interrogations. Because of his keen interest in spirituality, imagination and dreams, he is regarded mostly as a symbolist. During his early years as an artist, Odilon Redon conceived visionary works in shades of black – a synthesis of nightmares and dreams as they contained fantastical Moulin de Bretagnefigures from the artist’s own imagination – which he called his « noirs ». It was not until 1890 that pastel and oil became his favoured media, therefore colour would dominate his paintings during the rest of his life. He then started to paint floral compositions, aquarels and pastels, while his symbolistic visions gave way to a cheerful serenity.
Although landscape is an aspect of his work that is still little-known, the exhibition underlined that it was nevertheless one of the main sources of oneiric inspiration for Redon, whose solitary and dreamy childhood in his property of Peyrelebade, in the Médoc, left a profound and enduring mark on his work : the wild and austere countryside of the Médoc landscape, between moors and marshes, echoes that of the Brittany landscapes discovered by the artist in the 1870-80s during his trips to Finistère and Morbihan. The French symbolist novelist J.K. Huysmans described Redon’s « dry and arid landscapes, calcinated plains, heaving and quaking Médoc, arbres dans la prairieground, where volcanos erupted into rebellious clouds, under foul and murky skies », elements that the public who visited the exhibition could remark in paintings like « Moulin en Bretagne », « Arbre dans la lande », « Dunes de la Palue », « Rochers de Vallières, près de Royan », « Médoc, arbres dans la prairie », « La mer à Morgat » or « Paysage de Venise », a city that he visited in 1908.

Among the exhibition’s highlights was « Arbres sur un fond jaune » (1901), one of the 17 decorative panels which Baron Robert de Domecy commissioned the artist to create for the dinning room of the Château de Domecy-sur-le-Vault in Burgundy. Odilon Redon’s radical compositions for the château de Domecy mark the transition from ornamental to abstract painting. The landscape details do not show a specific place or space, only details of trees, twigs with leaves and budding flowers, while the colours used are mostly yellow, grey, brown and light blue, with a touch of pink or red here and there. The influence of the Japanese painting style is discernible in the painter’s choice of colours and of the rectangular proportions of most of the up to 2.5 metres high panels – moreover Redon was known for his keen interest in Hindu and Buddhist religion and culture.
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Another major work exposed was « Saint Sébastien ». This pastel represents Saint Sebastian tied to a barren tree

Dunes-de-la-Palue

Dunes-de-la-Palue

with two arrows protruding from his body, while the drops of blood from his wounds let flowers sprout all over the ground. The landscape of this painting reminds that of Peyrelebade in the Médoc, which nourrished Odilon Redon’s imaginary and art.

The exhibition catalogue contains all the exposed works in colour, with contributions by art historians and specialists on Odilon Redon (Editions Snoeck).

(Sources : the exhibition brochure, « Les Maîtres de la Peinture Occidentale » (Taschen), http://www.musba-bordeaux.fr/sites/musba-bordeaux.fr/files/odilon_redon-dossier_pedagogique.pdf, Wikipedia’s articles on Odilon Redon and French Symbolism)

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Konstantina Moschou
Konstantina Moschou 5 posts

Konstantina Moschou was born in Greece in 1977 and has been living in France since 2002. She is a professional photographer and has also worked as a book translator. She has studied philosophy and education sciences (Aristotle’sUniversity of Thessaloniki) and has a PhD in philosophy (Paris X-Nanterre University). Her website: http://konstantinamoschou.my-free.website

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