Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Picture of the Week No.13 - Odilon Redon

As I was flicking through the two catalogues of all the works on paper in the Cecil Higgins Collection I was struck again by the intense black of Odilon Redon's lithography. The recent show of his lithographs at the Fitzwilliam was my favourite exhibition of last year and the catalogue entry for this weeks picture of the week goes some way to describing how Redon moved from his black chalk 'noirs' to these intense prints based on Flaubert's 'The Temptation of St' Anthony'. This entry was written by Julia Nurse of the Wellcome Trust who contributed greatly to the production of our Print catalogue, published in 2004 and available for £35 from the Gallery & Museum. KP

Odilon REDON (1840-1916)
Les Sciapodes: La Tête le plus bas possible, c’est le secret du bonheur (The Skiapods: The Head as low as possible, is the secret of Happiness), 1889
lithograph, 28 × 21.4 cm
inscribed: ODILON REDON in plate

Accession No.: P.494
PROVENANCE: Purchased from Sotheby’s, Lot 180, 9 March 1965.
REFERENCES: A. Mellerio, Odilon Redon: Peintre, Dessinateur et Graveur, cat.no.100, ed. H.Floury, Paris, 1923; T. Gott, The Enchanted Stone: The Graphic World of Odilon Redon, cat.no.66, 1990.
NOTES: Printed on Chine appliqué by Becquet of Paris. Final plate VI from an album of lithographs made for Gustave Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine, published by Dumont of Paris, 1889.

Redon was one of the outstanding figures of Symbolism, the French artistic movement at the end of the 19th century, which was characterised by a rejection of direct, literal representation in favour of evocation and suggestion. He frequently drew inspiration from young poets and novelists and vice versa. In this case, he draws on the writings of Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), master of the 19th century French novel, who was preoccupied with the fantastic visions of the temptations of St Antony on which The Skiapods is based. Skiapods were legendary medieval creatures who reputedly lived in Africa. Their name stands for ‘shadow-foot’ which refers to their one-legged appearance with a foot so large that they could lie on their backs and use it as a sunshade.

Prior to 1889, Redon had been drawing, painting and etching for some years, yet he could find no way of showing his works outside the reluctant official institutions. The publication of lithographs, particularly of albums, represented an alternative to exhibitions and enabled Redon to reach the wider audience. Redon used lithographic crayon, hard to create the design, soft to develop the shadows and tones. This graphic medium allowed him to expand on his earlier black chalk drawings, so-called ‘noirs’. He printed almost exclusively on applied China paper (Chine appliqué) which involved transferring the lithographic impression onto a thin sheet of paper while mounted under pressure to a heavier backing paper. This process allowed the ink to be absorbed more than other papers. Production was in limited editions, largely because of his small audience, but also because profit could only be made on up to 100 copies.

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