Odilon Redon's ambivalent world

Literature and music are inextricably linked in the works of the French artist

The Kroeller-Mueller Museum sheds new light on the oeuvres of French artist Odilon Redon. The famous Dutch museum exhibits 167 of his works - pastels in combination with watercolours or oil paintings, drawings and lithographs. All works are donated by prestigious public and private collections. The exhibition offers a panoramic view of Redon's artistic leanings and reveals the role of literature and music in the evolution of his visual world.

Jean-Bertrand Redon, known to art historians as Odilon Redon (1840-1916), is one of the most renowned French symbolists. His art, however, is a base on which admirers of surrealism and metaphysical painting, as well as psychological and phantasy genres, see a valuable tradition.

He started studying watercolour technique in 1855. Later, he met Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885), an eccentric French lithographer whose drawings featuring macabre forests and fantastic scenes shocked the public many times.

Redon's role as a writer and illustrator is explored in the exhibition in a number of lithographic series that he made for texts by writers he admired, such as Gustave Flaubert, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Baudelaire. He had close friendships with writers and composers, was himself active as a writer and gave music recitals. For him, music, literary themes and visual art are inextricably linked. In his own time, he was already highly praised for his entirely unique way of combining these different expressive forces in his work. More than anyone, Redon thus embodies the popular, late nineteenth-century concept of synaesthesia - the idea that a more intense experience can be created by appealing to several senses simultaneously.

After 1878, Odilon Redon gradually gained popularity and in 1879 released his first graphic album. Over time, the artist created his lithographic cycles - Edgar Poe (1882), The Beginning (1883), Homage to Goya (1885), The Temptation of St. Anthony (1888, 1889, 1896), Flaubert (1889), The Flowers of Evil (1890) and The Apocalypse (1899). Art experts divide Redon's creative work into two basic periods. Within the first one, also called the 'colourful' period, the artist worked with pastels and oils and was not afraid of using the brightest palette - his compositions from that time feature exotic butterflies, flowers, women and landscapes. His 'black' period came as a shock to the public, then, the artist seemingly plunged into the human subconscious, decades before the official science and modern art started talking about such a phenomenon.

The exhibition in the Kroeller-Mueller Museum highlights the interest of the artist for certain symbols and specific themes, such as the winged horse Pegasus or his depiction of women, who appear as both a symbol of beauty (Beatrice) and in the shape of the femme fatale (Salome). Redon used these themes time and again, gave them changing forms and always provided them with new meanings and associations.

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