March 23, 2007

Odilon Redon :: As In a Dream

It's a rainy day in Frankfurt, but our time is limited so we hopped on the U-Bahn to Römer Platz to visit the Schirn Kunsthalle's current exhibition "Odilon Redon :: Wie im Traum". What a wonderful way to spend a gray afternoon! The magical, mystical world of Odilon Redon is revealed to the museum visitor with this outstanding selection of over 200 prints, drawings, pastels and oil paintings. Covering his entire œuvre from the "Noirs (Blacks)" period through Symbolism to his more colorful floral bouquets, the complex world of this not-so-well-known artist is made far more accessible, and his influence on the yet-to-be founded Surrealist Movement is made very clear.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was born in Bordeaux, France, and spent a solitary youth with music and nature as his main companions, and later influences on his work. Redon's art is not purely decorative or descriptive, rather, it is intended to inspire as many associations as possible - to depict the uncertain as it is revealed in dreams. The study of dreams and free association was fashionable among scientists and artists at the time, and Redon was a strong proponent of artistic imagination as inspired by these inspirations. To quote Redon, "My drawings inspire and do not define themselves. They determine nothing. They place us just as music does in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate".

And where does that leave us, the viewer? With a glorious collection of esoteric and mysterious images that capture the imagination. From the early works done in black charcoal or black lithography like "Eye Balloon", 1878, "The Crying Spider", 1881, "The Laughing Spider", 1881", or his suites of prints (the complete set of his graphic works is on display in this exhibition), Redon does not seek to horrify or disturb, rather to present a magical and alternative view of objects that we are already familiar with.

As his career progressed, he sought to make the connection between mythology and religion, believing that "Life and history can be portrayed through natural phenomena". Suddenly, in the early 1900's, his works became imbued with color - "The Dream", 1904, "Underwater Vision", 1910, "Butterflies", 1910 and "Bouquet in a Persian Vase", c. 1910 - mark this transition. Though he never abandons the theme of nature, he expands his vision to incorporate more mythological beings. The final room in the exhibition reproduces the murals he created for Fontfroide, a Cistercian Abbey in France. His interpretations of "Day", "Night" and "Silence" are the culmination of a life devoted not just to creating things of beauty, but a world that exists beyond our every day confines.

Redon may never become a household name, but it is the object of exhibitions such as this to bring some well deserved attention to this creative genius who lived "as in a dream".

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