We have been looking into Modernism in lectures. Modernism focusses on the actuality, the now, and rejects classical ideas,looking to progress and change.
In particular, the work of proto-modernist Odilon Redon interested me. Redon, (1840 – 1916) was a symbolist painter from Bordeaux, France. He moved to Paris in the 1870s where his work began to be recognised when he produced Guardian Spirit of the Waters, (1878). This 46.6 x 37.6 cm charcoal piece depicts a winged head gazing down at a boat in the sea. Modernism subjects are tackled in the work: myth, non realistic representation, a contemporary setting and a portrayal of imagination and society.
Redon’s work of this period consists mainly of strange and often gruesome subjects. As novelist Huysmans once said of Redon’s work;
“They held…undreamed-of images.”
Redon himself made it clear that the images were inspired by dreams. Modernism rejected the idea of reality – it was too classical. Michael Gibson in his book “Symbolism” also touches on the dream-like atmosphere of Redon’s work:
“Redon’s art was always commanded by his dreams, but the thematic content of his work over his last twenty years is more densely mythical, brimming with newfound hope and light which rose quite unexpectedly out of the depths of the artist’s personality.”
The use of charcoal helps Redon to capture the effect of a mysterious dream with it’s smudgy, undefined edges and the chiaroscuro of it and the white of the page creates a light atmosphere, symbolising hope.
Redon’s work fits into the label of “proto-modernist” as it deals with the subject of myth and non-realistic representation but set in a contemporary setting. It reflects the literature of the time and portrays imagination and society.