Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Odilon Redon

Until 18 May 14
The Chariot of Apollo, around 1910
Various shades of black characterised the work of the French artist Odilon Redon (1840-1916) until the 1890s. 

The Bordeaux-born painter, draughtsman and printmaker had made a name for himself with his charcoal and ink drawings of scenes from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe and fantastical creatures such as smiling spiders and disembodied heads. 

It was not until Redon was in his 50s that he turned to colour for inspiration—a move that was to influence other major colourists, including Matisse, who collected Redon’s works. 

Redon’s late interest in polychromy is at the heart of the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, and one of its stars happens to be a work once owned by Matisse: The Death of Buddha, around 1899. 

The brightly coloured pastel, which was bought by Matisse in 1900, is on loan from a private collection and has not been on public view in more than 90 years. 

The show explores the recurring themes in Redon’s work and his links to Modernism, featuring 80 paintings, pastels, drawings and lithographs from public and private collections in Europe and the US. 

“The exhibition follows the Beyeler’s tradition of mounting shows on important forerunners of Modern art,” says the show’s curator, Raphaël Bouvier. 

Although Redon is not represented in the Beyeler’s collection, Bouvier says that the exhibition allows the museum to present works that fell outside Hildy and Ernst Beyeler’s view of Modernism. 

The exhibition opens with rooms devoted to Redon’s dark charcoal drawings and lithographs; visitors will then be able to view works demonstrating his transition to colour—a change that Bouvier describes as “exceptional”. 

Difficult childhood These works are arranged thematically, with sections on subjects such as flowers, boats, mythology and the spiritual and sacred. 

Included in the “sacred” section is another depiction of Buddha from around 1905 from the Musée ­d’Orsay—a work that also rarely travels. 

The Parisian museum has also lent five large wall panels of flowers and fauna, which suggest early forms of abstract painting. 

Redon created the ambitious cycle for the home of his friend and patron Baron Robert de Domecy. So what led Redon to embrace colour with such gusto after spending so many years working only in black? Bouvier says there are many different theories; one is that after a difficult and lonely childhood he found love in 1880 when he married Camille Falte. 

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