Redon proved to be an inspiration for many younger artists including Henri Matisse, Marcel Duchamp and the Nabis. Richard Hobbs discusses the interest in Redon shown by the Nabis: “What the Nabis actually so admired in Redon was not only the technical quality of his works but also his ability to suggest the mysterious and the spiritual. Bonnard later summed this up succinctly: ‘What strikes me most in his work is the coming together of two almost opposite qualities: very pure plastic substance and very mysterious expression. Our whole generation is under his charm and benefits from his advice’” (Richard Hobbs, Odilon Redon, London, 1977, p. 84). After his revolutionary showing of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 at the 1913 Armory Show (where 38 of Redon’s works were also exhibited), Marcel Duchamp was asked whether his art or that of his contemporaries was derived from the legacy of Cézanne. He replied, "I am sure that most of my friends would say so and I know that he [Cézanne] is a great man. Nevertheless, if I am to tell what my own point of departure has been, I should say that it was the art of Odilon Redon” (quoted in John Rewald, ibid., p. 44).
The present work directly relates to an oil of the same title, Le Silence (see fig. 1), which was exhibited during the 1913 Armory Show where it was purchased by Lillie P. Bliss who later bequeathed it to the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Discussing the imagery and theme of silence in Redon’s art, Richard Hobbs states: “Silence here is not associated with fear or pessimism, but with the suggestion of reflective and spiritual experience. Silence negates the intrusions of the contingent and objective world, giving rein to that undefined state of thoughtfulness that the idealist art of Redon seeks to provoke. In this respect, silence is comparable to another important them of Redon’s later works, the theme of closed eyes. Both silence and closed eyes indicate that Redon is concerned with the mind rather than the senses, the solitary reflections of the individual rather than the recordings of objective phenomena” (Richard Hobbs, ibid., pp. 158-59).
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