The subject of the floral still-life preoccupied Redon throughout his career, but it was not until an exhibition at Durand-Ruel in the spring of 1906 that this theme began to dominate his work. As Richard Hobbs has explained, “'These fragile scented beings, admirable prodigies of light’, as he later described them, were providing him with a motif through which to develop the joyful and spiritual transformation of natural forms that is characteristic of so many of his colour works…He associated flowers with a delicate but fundamental kind of artistic expression. When in 1903 he described Gauguin’s ceramics, it was to flowers that he compared them, ‘flowers of a primeval region, where each flower would be the type of a species, leaving to succeeding artists the task of providing varieties by affiliation.’ Flowers were becoming a theme of primary importance to Redon, both as motifs for experimentation with colour and as the expression of a personal lyricism” (Richard Hobbs, Odilon Redon, London, 1977, p. 139).
In the present work, Redon’s daring use of color reveals a confidence that characterizes his later compositions. Although the artist incorporated some color into his earlier works, toward the turn of the century he began to allow vibrant hues to dominate the overall surfaces of his paintings. According to John Rewald, “André Masson…called Redon ‘perhaps the first really free colorist,’ crediting him with the demonstration of ‘the endless possibilities of lyrical chromatics.’ According to Masson, Redon invented ‘color as metamorphosis,’ and used his ‘tight-rope hues to the limits of the possible.’ Indeed, the figures and the faces, the aquatic fauna and the butterflies, but above all the unending succession of fabulous blossoms which Redon brought into existence made no pretense at representing natural truth. They are, more often than not, prolongations of dreams, happy dreams vying with the splendors of the rainbow [see fig. 1]” (John Rewald, “Odilon Redon,” Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau, Rodolphe Bresdin (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, 1962, p. 40).
Anémones et coquelicots reflects Redon’s ability to create lively compositions using contrasting colors and shapes. Although his bouquet is comprised of flowers of varying sizes and forms, the overall effect is one of cohesion and harmony. Isolated, the leaves and petals of Redon's flowers appear as small, brightly colored, geometric planes; together, they combine to form a unified whole. Each element is defined in relation to the next, revealing a complex organization which captivates the eye. This technique is reminiscent of the painting style of Redon's contemporary, Paul Gauguin, whom Redon greatly admired. Like Gauguin, Redon imbued his compositions with a spiritual quality, declaring, "He who believes that the aim of art is to reproduce nature will paint nothing lasting: for nature is alive, but she has no intelligence. In a work of art, thought must complement and replace life; otherwise you will only see a physical work that has no soul" (quoted in Richard Hobbs, Odilon Redon, London, 1977, p. 152).
Redon's romantic attitude toward nature is evident in Anémones et coquelicots. His bouquet is surrounded by a field of subtly modelled tones, which emphasizes the detail of the flora spilling out of the vase. This neutral backdrop reflects the influence of Asian art, particularly the art of Japan . As in the Japanese woodblock prints, fans, and screens which became popular in Europe in the nineteenth century, Redon employed positive and negative space in order to maximize the impact of his seemingly straightforward subjects. By juxtaposing his abundant bouquet and green vase against a simple background, his flowers achieve a greater sense of dimensionality and importance. The precision inherent in these serene compositions exhibits the great care with which Redon addressed the theme of the floral still-life, and the mastery of his medium.
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