Painting of the Day

1 Mar

Orpheus. By Odilon Redon (1840-1916). Pastel, c.1903-1910. Currently in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.

Notes from

The mystery and the evocation of the drawings are described by Huysmans in the following passage: “Those were the pictures bearing the signature: Odilon Redon. They held, between their gold-edged frames of unpolished pearwood, undreamed-of images: a Merovingian-type head, resting upon a cup; a bearded man, reminiscent both of a Buddhist priest and a public orator, touching an enormous cannon-ball with his finger; a spider with a human face lodged in the centre of its body. Then there were charcoal sketches which delved even deeper into the terrors of fever-ridden dreams. Here, on an enormous die, a melancholy eyelid winked; over there stretched dry and arid landscapes, calcinated plains, heaving and quaking ground, where volcanos erupted into rebellious clouds, under foul and murky skies; sometimes the subjects seemed to have been taken from the nightmarish dreams of science, and hark back to prehistoric times; monstrous flora bloomed on the rocks; everywhere, in among the erratic blocks and glacial mud, were figures whose simian appearance–heavy jawbone, protruding brows, receding forehead, and flattened skull top–recalled the ancestral head, the head of the first Quaternary Period, the head of man when he was still fructivorous and without speech, the contemporary of the mammoth, of the rhinoceros with septate nostrils, and of the giant bear. 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.”

Redon also describes his work as ambiguous and undefinable: “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”

Redon’s work represent an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche. He himself wanted to “place the visible at the service of the invisible”; thus, although his work seems filled with strange beings and grotesque dichotomies, his aim was to represent pictorially the ghosts of his own mind. A telling source of Redon’s inspiration and the forces behind his works can be found in his journal A Soi-meme (To Myself). His process was explained best by himself when he said: “I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted before an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased.”

My comments:

Redon’s works are very unique and beautiful to me. They combine a Classical style of painting (although that’s not as evident in this painting above) with a modernist notion of deriving deep, philosophical meaning from the paintings. something that’s almost innate and subconscious. I absolutely love the colors that are used here and the way that Redon applied them to the canvas with pastel. They have a very sandy, ethereal quality to them that fits the lofty, dreamlike quality of the image. I bet this pastel drawing would be wonderful to see in person because of its unique texture. What’s interesting is that while Redon titled the painting Orpheus, there’s nothing about the painting that really connects it to Orpheus. But this doesn’t surprise me since it’s a Symbolist work, and Symbolism is all about what the subject matter symbolizes rather than the subject matter itself. But this is such a beautiful drawing. Although Moreau isn’t my favorite artist, I somehow feel like my goal as an artist myself would be to produce work that looks like Redon’s.

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara March 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    The Cleveland Museum of art is really beautiful and has a great collection. woudl you like to plan a trip to visit both Grandma Wincze and the museum some weekend? Maybe in May or June when you get out of school?

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