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.
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.
Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collections, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 2013).
Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007).
eds. Margret Stuffmann, Max Hollein, et. al., Odilon Redon: as in a dream, (Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2007).
Atsuko Yamamoto, Odilon Redo: le souci de l'absolu, (Nagoya: Chunichi Shimbun, 2002).
Claire Dunne, Carl Jung: wounded healer of the soul, (New York: Parabola Books, 2000).
Barbara T. Ross, "The Mather years 1922-1946," in "An art museum for Princeton: the early years", special issue, Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 55, no. 1/2 (1996): p. 53–76.
Maria Teresa Benedetti, Dei ed eroi : classicita` e mito fra '800 e '900: [Roma, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, 15 marzo - 30 maggio 1996], (Roma: De Luca, 1996).
Constance Schwartz, An Ode to gardens and flowers: May 10-August 9, 1992, (Roselyn Harbor, NY: Nassau County Museum of Art, 1992).
Alec Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: catalogue raisonne´ de l'oeuvre peint et dessine´, (Paris: Wildenstein Institute, 1992-1998).
Jeremy Lane, "Orpheus: myths for the moderns", History of European ideas 8, no. 1 (1987): p. 1-30.
Selections from The Art Museum, Princeton University, (Princeton, NJ: The Art Museum, Princeton University, 1986).
Roseline Bacou, Odilon Redon, 1840-1916: Galerie des beaux-arts, Bordeaux, 10 mai-1er septembre 1985, (Bordeaux: La Galerie, 1985).
Constance H. Schwartz, The Shock of Modernism in America (Roslyn Harbor, NY: Nassau County Museum of Fine Art, 1984).
Aaron Sheon, Monticelli, his contemporaries, his influence, (Pittsburgh, PA: Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute, 1978).
Philippe Roberts-Jones, Beyond time and place: non-realist painting in the nineteenth century, (Oxford, UK; New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).
John Christian, Symbolists and decadents, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1977).
Arts and crafts in Detroit 1906-1976: the movement, the society, the school: the Detroit Institute of Arts, November 26, 1976-January 16, 1977: exhibition, (Detroit, MI: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1976).
Atsushi Miyakawa, Redon - Resa¯ = Redon - Rousseau, (Tokyo: Shueisha, 1971).
Odilon Redon: loan exhibition, October 22-November 21, 1970, for the benefit of the Lenox Hill Hospital, New York, (New York: Acquavella Galleries, 1970).
Louise Averill Svendsen, Rousseau, Redon, and fantasy (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 1968).
Klaus Berger, Odilon Redon: fantasy and colour, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965).
Great art from private colleges and universities: Marquette University Art Collection and special exhibit, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University, 1964).
Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau [and] Rodolphe Bresdin, (Garden City, NY: Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1961).
Still lifes and flowers, old & new: Chardin, Courbet, Odilon Redon, van Gogh, Klee, etc., (New York: Delius Gallery, 1951).
Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., "A painting by Redon", Record of the Museum of Historic Art, Princeton University 3, no. 2 (Autumn, 1944): p. 2.
Detroit Institute of Arts, An exhibition of nineteenth century French paintings: [Exhibition held] October 29-November 16, 1935, (Detroit, MI: Society of Arts and Crafts, 1935).
The Shock of Modernism in America (April 29–July 29, 1984)