Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Odilon Redon (France, 1840-1916)
Carnations (Les oeillets), n.d.
Pastel on paper
23 x 20 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
Odilon Redon is considered one of the leading exponents of the artistic and literary movement known as Symbolism, which expressed ideas through enigmatic and often complex metaphors. He won the admiration of his peers in the 1880s with his Noirs (Black Ones), a loose series of charcoals and prints characterized by a dark atmosphere and haunting subject matter. His association with the French avant-garde and his friendship with Armand Guillaumin secured him a place in the last Impressionist exhibition in 1886 and may have led him to experiment with colorful oils and pastels in the early 1890s.
After 1900, Redon turned to a series of floral still lifes using the vivid coloration he had previously applied to his Symbolist works. He employed passages of color to compose his forms, largely ignoring line and shading, except when necessary to establish space. In the pastel Carnations (Les oeillets), a flourish of red, pink, and white help to define the blossoms of the pink carnations, and additional touches of color complete the bouquet: yellow dots create the impression of mimosa, dashes of blue suggest corn flower, and touches of red may represent salvia or some kind of berry. Redon focused on the flowers and vase to the exclusion of all else and, despite limited gray shading to provide relief, the still life exists in an undefined and somewhat unreal space. The artist devoted much of the remainder of his career to floral imagery, and his use of brilliant colors and abstract form would have a formative influence on Henri Matisse, who collected several of the pastels.