The Cobalt Blue Intensity of a Radiant Flower Bouquet

Tuesday, April 23rd 2024

by Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon (French, 1840-1916)

Flower bouquet with Sunflower

Signed on the bottom left corner.

H. 60 W. 40 cm.

Provenance: Collection of Jules Chavasse, June 22, 1922 auction, lot nr. 27, Paris.
Artloss Register Certificate dated April 11, 2021.

Bibliography: Wildenstein-Saint-Guily, III, 1998, nr. 1558.

Exhibition: "Odilon Redon", Tokyo, 1973, nr. 14, printed in color.

A radiant bouquet by Redon

Renewing the genre

With his compositions swaying between dream and reality, Odilon Redon succeeded in sublimating still life with flowers paintings better than any other painter of his time. A favorite of art lovers, this subject crossed artistic boundaries at the beginning of the 20th century. Following in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, whose retrospective exhibitions were organized in 1901 and 1907, artists such as Henri Matisse and Auguste Renoir took advantage of the trend to renew the genre. At the end of the century, flower bouquets helped Redon move away from his dark haunted period of the 1880s. Buoyed by the enthusiasm generated by his first monographic exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s art dealership in 1894, the artist produced almost three hundred oil and pastel paintings depicting flowers, whether potted or in bouquets, over a period of fifteen years. He exhibited them at the Salon d'Automne between 1905 and 1908 and sold them at Durand-Ruel’s and Hôtel Drouot. Wine merchant Jules Chavasse (1858-1919) was probably one of his most discerning collectors. Several auctions were necessary to scatter his collection of drawings and prints in 1919; his library in 1923; and most of all, his modern art collection in 1922. Alongside five bronzes and marbles by Rodin, two paintings by Matisse and Gustave Moreau, one each by Renoir and Vuillard, and three each by Bonnard and Van Dongen, Odilon Redon reigned supreme with no fewer than 12 of the 55 works presented in the auction catalogue. Seven of these paintings depicted flower bouquets, led by this very pastel, reproduced in full-page. Redon's selection opened with a portrait of Saint Sebastian, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (no. 1963.10.57), and closed with Le Rêve (The Dream) and Le Cyclope (The Cyclop), which are the pride and joy of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, The Netherlands (KM 103.98). Jules Chavasse's eye proved to be one of the finest to appreciate the work of Redon and this magnetic pastel was considered as one of his most important paintings.

Redon owed his love of flora to Armand Clavaud (1828-1890), a botanist and philosopher he met in Bordeaux as a teenager. Clavaud introduced him to the meticulous observation of plants and passed on his love of literature and his research into Buddhism and Pantheism. Our bouquet, unusual in more ways than one, is painted on an azure background and seems to float in an upward movement. It is placed in a cobalt-blue vase, with a sunflower is in its center surrounded by dahlias, peonies and carnations.

Although the sunflower appears on rare occasions in the painter's body of work, it seems to hold a special meaning for him. In his correspondence, he wrote that he painted the sunflower "in its brutal truth of stubby sun", seeking like Van Gogh before him to capture all its radiance. After 1910, Redon stopped painting lush flowers to favor stripped-down purity, thus giving this wonderful pastel from his heyday a special place. More than many of Redon's oil paintings, it is a tribute to his talent as a colorist.

Alongside flowers, Odilon Redon also appreciated ceramic vases, which benefited from the then-occurring renewed interest in fire arts. He attended the World Fairs, where Japanese stoneware had been on display since 1878, and built up a personal collection that fed into his own work. The neck of our pitcher-shaped glazed ceramic vase is decorated with a double line. Listed by Wildenstein under number 1558, in the "Unusual Vases" section, it is the first and only time this vase has been represented.

Cobalt blue is ubiquitous in the artist's work, who dedicated himself to this color from 1890 onwards. La Cellule d'or (The Golden Cell) is a great example of his fixation: an 1892 painting housed in the British Museum’s collections, it depicts a woman in cobalt blue against a golden background. A follower of theosophical thought, Redon's blue stands for femininity and a quest for a spiritual ideal. Part decorative element, part ethereal vision, the use of this solid color and of the sunflower symbol both infuse spirituality into our bouquet. This pastel perfectly illustrates Redon's notion that "a painting teaches nothing; it attracts, it surprises, it exalts, it subtly and lovingly leads to a need for a life among beautiful things; it lifts and straightens the spirit".

- Aymeric Rouillac, with Hortense Lugand

36th Garden Party Auction
May 24-27, 2024

at château d'Artigny
92, rue de Monts 37250 Montbazon, France.
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