This summer’s exhibition in the print room at the Gemeentemuseum will comprise over sixty prints and drawings by Odilon Redon (1840 - 1916), one of the most important French artists of the period around 1900. Redon is known primarily for his mystical lithographs, drawings and paintings featuring a fantastical and visionary use of symbols.
Odilon Redon – who called himself a born outsider – used virtually no colour in his work before his sixtieth birthday. Through to around 1900, his oeuvre consisted entirely of charcoal drawings and black ink lithographs which he himself lovingly called ‘mes noirs’. In these works, Redon brought into play a whole range of shades, from deep velvety black to almost transparent pale grey. His memoirs, published in 1921 under the title ‘A soi même’, record that he frequently suffered from nightmares during this period and found day-to-day life a struggle. It was only not until he reached old age that he discovered the lighter side of life and admitted colour into his work. Redon found inspiration in nature, certain aspects of which he depicts with great accuracy. This exhibition will include a number of naturalistic drawings. An absolute high point is a self-portrait dating from around 1900, in which the artist appears to loom out of the darkness. More frequently, however, Redon positions objects which appear to come from the visible world in an imaginary, almost magical context. It is no accident that the later Surrealists saw these dreamlike works by Redon as a shining example. Another feature of Redon’s lithographs and drawings is the frequency with which they refer to the work of other artists, such as Goya. However, he also produced prints to illustrate the writings of great literary figures like Baudelaire and Flaubert. Besides playing a major role in the content of his work, literature also influenced its popularity. In 1882, Redon met the writer Huysmans. Two years later, Huysmans’ novel ‘A rebours’ was published, depicting its protagonist, a perverse and decadent aristocrat called Des Esseintes, as a fervent admirer of Redon’s fantastical work. The book was a bestseller and made Odilon Redon’s work famous from one day to the next. The Netherlands and Belgium were among the first countries outside France where Redon’s work attracted widespread appreciation. As a result, there are several major collections of his work here. In addition lithographs and drawings, the Gemeentemuseum’s collection also includes four polychrome oil paintings produced by Redon in his old age. During the exhibition, these will also be on show in the museum.