Late in his career, Redon abandoned charcoal drawing and lithography to embrace color, working in pastels and oil paints. With this shift came a change of mood; the brooding melancholy and nightmarish anxiety of his noirs (charcoal drawings) gave way to emotional tranquility and the pursuit of visual pleasure. Here, he marginalizes the figures, giving more space to a phantasmagorical cascade of butterflies, flowers, and suggestively organic shapes — a disorienting field of pulsating colors and textures, seemingly liberated from contingencies of the everyday world.
The profuse natural forms and color bursts give visual expression to Redon’s metaphors of artistic creation. He described artistic originality as a "flower" to be cultivated, and the work of art as a product of a gestational process in the artist’s mind, whereby plastic or material elements have been "illuminated" or "irradiated" by the painter’s spirit. The ideal artwork also spurs thoughts or dreams in the viewer. Flowers were his pretext for decorative arrangements of color, which, like many Symbolists, he likened to musical harmonies occasioning flights of reverie and ambiguous, indeterminate ideas. While the artist enveloped himself in the private world of dreams, viewers were invited to immerse themselves in contemplation of his work, to find in its richly colored surfaces an escape from the pressures and miseries of daily life, a balm for the soul.
To underscore his conception of art as a site of spiritual communion and sanctuary, Redon shows an arched opening, framing a dark space suggestive of a temple or church. Above a flight of steps (the only conventional spatial cues) two wraith-like figures shrouded in white advance with ritual purpose. One holds a bunch of flowers and moves forward gracefully, even seductively, her curves accentuated. The other stands solemnly, hieratically motionless, emitting a saintly aureole of light. We might find in the mysterious pairing an allegory for Redon’s late work more generally, an art in which sensual attraction and spiritual illumination go hand in hand.
Signed in paint, lower right: Odilon Redon
During the 1890s, Redon shifted his attention from charcoal drawing and lithography to a practice that embraced color, working in pastels and oil paints. With this shift came a change of mood: the brooding melancholy and nightmarish anxiety of the "noirs" (as he called his works done in shades of black) gave way to emotional tranquility and the pursuit of visual pleasure. Most of Apparition is devoted to a phantasmagorical cascade of butterflies, flowers, and suggestively organic shapes—a disorienting field of pulsating colors and textures, seemingly liberated from contingencies of the everyday world. Somewhat marginalized in the distance, a wraithlike figure holds a bunch of flowers and moves forward gracefully while another figure stands motionless, emitting a saintly aureole of light. Perhaps Redon included the pair to suggest an allegory for his later work, in which sensual attraction and spiritual illumination are commingled.
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