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Odilon REDON

Tête fumante

47 x 39 cm (18 ¹/₂ x 15 ³/₈ inches)
Charcoal on paper
Signed lower right: Odilon REDON

Durand-Ruel, Paris, acquired circa 1891
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris, acquired circa 1909
Gustave Fayet, Béziers
Collection Yseult d’Andoque née Fayet, Béziers, by descent
Private collection, France, acquired circa 1991

- Odilon Redon, Livre de Raison :
Premier cahier[Ms 42 821]: accounts, listed as sold on April 26 1891 « 135 frs De Durand-Ruel pour le dessin Tête fumante »
Second cahier [Ms 42 820]: listed under year 1883 and titled « Tête fumante »
Troisième cahier [Ms 42 822]: listed under Les Noirs, Fusains, n°75 and titled « Tête fumante, profil de femme, mains jointes »
- La Vie Moderne, Seconde Année, n°43, October 21 1885, lithography after the original drawing illustrated on the first page
- Le Chat noir, Cinquième Année, n°228, May 22 1886, Georges Auriol :« Huitième Exposition », p. 708
- Le Parti national,April 121891, Alfred Ernst :« Deux expositions »
- La Paix, April 12 1891, Alfred Ernst :« Nos graveurs », p. 2
- Roseline Bacou, Odilon Redon, Geneva, 1956, vol. II, n°45 p. 49, fig. 45, illustrated
- Klaus Berger, Odilon Redon, Fantasy and Color, New York, 1965, n°692, p. 233 under the title Gebet(wrong date and dimensions)
- Dario Gamboni, La plume et le pinceau, Paris, 1989, fig. 15 (first page of the La Vie Moderne), illustrated
- Alec Wildenstein, Odilon Redon. Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint et dessiné, Paris, 1992, vol. I (Portraits et figures), n°150, p. 71, illustrated(titled: La Prière, ou L’Orante, ou Tête fumante)

- Paris, Galeries Durand-Ruel, Société desPeintres-graveurs Français, Troisième Exposition, 1891, n°268
- Le Havre, Hôtel de Ville, Cercle de l’Ar t Moderne, Quatrième Exposition, 1909, n°61
- Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Odilon Redon, 1926, n°209
- Paris, Grand Palais, Galeries nationales ; Montpellier, Musée Fabre, Odilon Redon, Prince du Rêve, 2011, n°54, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (wrong dimensions)
- Marseille, Musée Cantini, Le Rêve, 2016-2017, illustrated in colour in the catalogue, p. 64

The way in which Odilon Redon used charcoal at the start of the 1880s can be considered as genuinely avant-garde. Not only was it completely different from the techniques of academic artists and naturalists, it was also a far cry from the practice of Seurat and the neo-impressionists. The strangeness of their subjects and Redon’s use of materials bewildered his contemporaries and differentiated his “noirs” (blacks) from the drawings of other artists of his times.

This tête fumantecannot exactly be considered a portrait, but neither is it really a religious icon and yet it possesses the physical presence of the first and the spirituality of the second. If it is possible to draw certain parallels with the way in which figures were represented in the Quattrocento,the particularity of Redon’s iconography is above all to be found in the way he situates his subjects both outside both their social condition (Naturalism) and their supernatural dimension (Symbolism) thereby reinforcing reality. By Redon’s own admission, it is the intense observation of nature that causes the mental effervescence which gives birth to imagination. These “noirs”, all of which are imbued with spirituality, therefore burst forth from life itself and it is the incredible strength of reality that Redon is striving to express, rather than an abstract vision disconnected from the real world. 

The medium of charcoal, which Redon used to say was “on the verge of something unpleasant” is in keeping with this singular iconography.Thanks to this material that can be likened to a piece of common-or-garden coal, Redon was able to obtain particular effects that were impossible with black chalk: stumping created strange transitions between the different planes (the smoke above the head and the way the face is shaped); scraping on the contrary created sharp contrasts between the background and the subject (the figure’s hair); and erasing reinforced chiaroscuro effects (the top of the head, the eyelids and lips).

The use of coloured paper and notably buff paper (as is the case for our drawing) also contributed to the mystery of chiaroscuro, which is fundamentally the main subject of these “noirs”. Let’s not forget that for Redon charcoal was a coloured medium (the types of charcoal available in the 19thcentury made it possible to obtain a variety of different densities of colour: brown, red, grey and a very deep black). His charcoals should therefore be considered as “black pastels” that possessed, as Redon himself said, “all the magic of subtle shades and ethereal wonderment contained in the word pastel”.
Our charcoal drawing is of particular interest because it was reproduced on the cover of La Vie Modernein 1885, an important periodical that promoted the avant-garde movement and which contributed to making known the Impressionists.