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Glyptotek invites the public into the dream of Odilon Redon

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This winter Denmark’s NY Carlsberg Glyptotek offers the unique opportunity to step into the world of Odilon Redon (1840−1916), a multitalented French artist who was a pastellist, draughtsman, painter and lithographer.

Being the first major presentation of Redon in Denmark, "Odilon Redon. Into the Dream" introduces the French artist’s artwork in all its aspects.
Phantasmagoric creatures, either animals, or plants, flying eyes and soaring teeth, spiders with human faces, spirits flying over the water, and ancient gods walking on the blossoming sky. Odilon Redon depicted landscapes and states of the world with impressionistic accuracy and passion. That world, however, existed only in his imagination. With the same blind obsession with which the artist’s contemporary Monet caught sunlight on the leaves of poplars, Redon peered at the stirring of primitive matter, from which vague shapes and mysterious creatures emerged.
Odilon Redon. Smiling spider
Smiling spider
1881, 49.5×39 cm

The Glyptotek organised the exhibition in association with The Kröller-Müller Museum (Holland). In all, one can experience more than 150 works by the French graphic artist and painter, distributed across three floors. To complete the experience, the Glyptotek has, together with LYDPOL and Podwalk, developed a sound experience which will function as an integrated element of the exhibition.

Redon’s composite universe of inspiration will also be reflected and interpreted throughout the period of the exhibition. A programme of events ranges from live music, through literary arrangements, to readings and much more.

Left: The exhibition "Odilon Redon. Into the Dream"

Odilon Redon. Self-portrait
Self-portrait
1967, 41.7×32 cm
Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist artist known for his pastels, prints, and paintings. He depicted a variety of motifs, including dreams, floral still lifes, landscapes, and mythological scenes. Born Bertrand-Jean Redon on April 20, 1840 in Bordeaux, France, he studied with the artist Stanislas Gorin as a teenager. Gorin introduced him to the works of Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Gustave Moreau. On his father’s wishes, Redon planned to study architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but failed the entrance exam. However, he remained in the city, reading the literary works of Gustave Flaubert, Edgar Allan Poe, and Charles Baudelaire, and briefly studying painting under Jean-Léon Gérôme. In 1865, he returned to his family home in Bordeaux and where he learned etching and lithography from the eccentric artist Rodolphe Bresdin.

Returning to Paris in 1871, Redon worked exclusively in black and white until the 1890s. This sudden use of bright color is attributable to his close friendships with Paul Gauguin and Maurice Denis. He died on July 6, 1916 in Paris, France. Redon was not like most artists of his time. He was financially secure and stayed married to the same woman throughout his life.

In 2018, Redon’s still life Fleurs set an auction record for the artist when it sold for $4,092,500 at Christies. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the National Gallery in London, among others.

Left: Odilon Redon. Fleurs

"My originality consists in bringing to life, in a human way, improbable beings and making them live according to the laws of probability, by putting — as for as possible — the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible"

Odilon Redon

Into the Dream

Odilon Redon’s universe is filled with narratives. With the exhibition title, "Odilon Redon. Into the Dream" the visitor is conducted into the dream — not Redon’s dream alone but also one’s own. In a sensuous, inquisitive universe the exhibition reaches out to visitors through a series of universal themes which are as immediate to us today as they were for the artist.

With themes such as dreams, darkness, mythology, literature, music, spirit and science the Glyptotek presents Redon as a complex, "dreamy" artist who embraces progress and science, but also things that cannot be explained: the inner world, darkness and the dream.


The exhibition "Odilon Redon. Into the Dream"
Photo by Liliia Lytvyn
Throughout Redon’s life, he insists on putting together his art in a way that lets it stand outside any kind of immediate order, direction, school or ism. A skilled draftsman, Redon makes detailed prints in black and white, and in midlife he also starts working in colour.

Redon insists that reality and fantasy can go hand in hand, and in his art it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. In 19th-century Paris, his colleagues called him "The Prince of Dreams", and Redon was part of a sprawling network of artists, writers, scientists and musicians. Exchanging ideas and coining new expressions, they lived in the awareness that up might as well be down, and that world does not stand still but is in constant motion.

Microbes and mythical beasts

Redon lived in a time when everything was being re-evaluated. Our view of the world was being changed by such factors as science, knowledge of hygiene, bacteria, the dissection of cadavers, neurology, microscopes and air balloons.

The artist was preoccupied with examining what he saw and used science to pursue these existential questions. Redon was surrounded by progress and bidded it welcome.

At the same time, Redon is also questing back in time and simultaneously drawing on various sources of inspiration such as the myths and figures of the ancient world, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Redon’s motifs find an echo in the Glyptotek’s rich permanent collections of art from the previous ages.
Famous for his expressive compositions in black and white, graphic works, and his vivid pastels and oil paintings, Redon found inspiration throughout his career in natural science, religion, literature, music, fables and mythology.

Redon called his prints les noirs, "the blacks", though they were so much more besides. He made drawings in numerous shades of black chalk and charcoal on tinted paper. It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye how many kinds of black there are on a single sheet. Only Redon knew their wealth and variation.

Black was in fashion in the mid-19th century. Artists took inspiration from the late Goya with his dark prints of nightmares and monsters, and Rembrandt’s works. Printmaking was booming. Doumier, Corot, Rousseau and even Monet were drawing in black chalk, playing with the rich variety of shades, smearing colour onto surfaces with their fingers.

Black becomes Redon’s trademark, a means of positioning and setting himself apart from others: those who paint outdoors in pastel, striving to reproduce the effects of sunlight and the interplay of the elements on the canvas.

Black was everything to Redon, the foremast and richest of colours.
  • Odilon Redon. When life was awakening in the Depths of obscure matter, 1883. Lithograph on chine collé. Private collection.
  • Odilon Redon. The important wing did not lift the animal into these black spaces, 1883. Lithograph on chine collé. Private collection.

One of a kind

Redon’s works draw on late Impressionism. But unlike the Impressionists, he plunges into all that cannot be seen.

Redon is a mysterious character, living and working in Paris at the same time as such other artists as Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Pierre Bonnard and Vincent van Gogh. Great artists who are represented in the Glyptotek’s permanent collection, and who, with selected works, are also featured in "Odilon Redon. Into the Dream". Together with these artists Redon was part of the avant-garde, though he insisted throughout his career on his independence of any form of artists' school or formula. For this reason he may be seen as the most idiosyncratic painter of his age.
In addition to works by Redon, the exhibition also includes works from the Glyptotek’s own collections. Visitors will, therefore, be able to experience a number of works from the museum’s collections of antiquities, including Greek portraits and creatures from Egyptian mythology that represent large parts of Redon’s wide-ranging sources of inspiration.

The museum has one of the finest collection of Paul Gauguin's works in the world.
The exhibition will be on show till January 20, 2019
Based on materials from Artnet, the official sites of NY-Carlsberg Glyptotek, The Kröller-Müller Museum and Christie’s.

Title illustration: Carlsberg Glyptotek, photos by Liliia Lytvyn.
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