Mary Anne Stevens writes, “Underlying the central thesis of Symbolism was the dethroning of external nature as the subject matter of art, and its replacement by the Idea. However, given that the Idea derived from the conceptual rather than from the physical world, it was by definition abstract. The issue for all Symbolists lay in the manner in which the Idea was to be visually actualized” (ibid., p. 206). How, in other words, could "the Idea" be represented without succumbing to the effects of Realism? Thadée Nathanso theorized that Redon achieved the depiction of "the Idea" through a representation of dreams: “The imprecision to which the dream owes its surest charm, how can this be captured within the necessary limits of expression in the visual arts? On the condition, realized [in Redon’s art] that, however far the dream might carry the artist…it will always identify itself through its unique qualities—colors or lines and their combination—in order to make sense” (quoted in ibid., p. 208). It is Redon’s specific handling of the media of pastel and oil, in other words, which allows the artist to follow the path of the dream and capture its essence.
Nathanson’s description of Redon is especially appropriate for the present work, part of a series the artist executed on the theme of a figure facing the viewer with shielded eyes. In the case of La Roue de la fortune, the increasingly abstract forms disseminating away from the figure alludes to Redon’s approach to Symbolism: as the mind relaxes into dreams, an organic energy emerges, producing a vibrant flower of ideas, a process Redon illustrates across the dazzling, highly textured surface.
The reverse of the panel, a tea-box lid, bearing the Chinese characters "Good of the Tea"
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