Daily Art Moment: Odilon Redon

Vertical off-white rectangle with various shapes scattered throughout a background of lighter crosshatching, shading, and abstract sketching. Two of the three largest shapes appear in the lower half of the rectangle. The first, positioned in the center, roughly forms the shape of a backwards C. The bottom of the C suggests a fishtail with fins. At the top, the shape seems to turn back on itself resulting in a face-like shape with eyes, situated on the inside of the curve. To the left of this shape is a heavily outlined circle suggesting an eye with upper and lower lids. A tail trails off to the left of this circle. The third large object is located in the top half of the work at right. It too suggests an eye, this time bulging with a small off center pupil-like shape surrounded by heavy line work. Scattered elsewhere are much smaller eye shapes, some with lids and lashes. The background is unevenly shaded with light and dark areas.

“Symbolist artist Odilon Redon was fascinated by the microscopic world that surrounds us. His fantastic prints, drawings, and paintings often feature bizarre depictions inspired by the unseen universe. His goal, he said, ‘consists in bringing to life … improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting—as far as possible—the logic of the Visible at the service of the Invisible.’ In this lithograph, Redon features forms that evoke eyes, mollusks, bacteria, and yes, even viruses. How do you think Redon would depict the novel coronavirus?”

Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of Prints and Drawings

Odilon Redon, et aue des Yeux sans Tête Flottaient comme des Mollusques (…and that of the eye without a head floating like mollusks), plate XIII of XXIV from La Tentation de Saint-antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony), 1896, lithograph printed chine collé on cream wove paper, Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Eduardo A. Vides and Bruce Guenther, public domain, 2014.31.1

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