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Closed eyes

Painting, 1890, 44×36 cm

Description of the artwork «Closed eyes»

Some people strongly want to reduce the artwork to the image of what one sees. Those who stay within these narrow boundaries set themselves a low goal. The Old Masters proved that the artist, who developed his own language and borrowed the necessary expression means from nature, gained freedom and the legal right to draw one's subjects from history, from poetry, from his own imagination...”, Odilon Redon said. He was the same age as the majority of the Impressionists, he appreciated the talent of revolutionary artists, but he sincerely considered “the upper limit of their art too low” for himself. Because it makes no sense to paint only what you see with your own eyes. Eyes are just one of the ways to see the world, the simplest one.

Eyes are Redon’s favourite physiological symbol. Eyes by themselves, floating in space, an eye hovering like a balloon in the sky, a ghost eye appearing to tiny creatures in the castle arch. Eyes of different sizes for the subjects who are obsessed with some kind of passion. A touchingly contemplative Cyclops, panicked eyes of an egg clamped in a stand. Finally, closed eyes. Haven't they seen anything yet or have they already seen enough? Are they fallen asleep or not yet awake?

Odilon Redon had several works under this title. After twenty black-and-white years, he started to work in oil and pastel, and he also repainted the colours of some of his own lithographs. A pictorial version of the Closed Eyes is now kept in the Musée d'Orsay: a thin translucent colourful surface revealing the canvas tissue, restrained and almost non-coloured, a kind of mirage. This painting exactly repeats Redon’s lithography and has a very similar composition as another his work that is kept in the Van Gogh Museum, which was once bought from the artist Theo Van Gogh. Finally, one more Closed Eyes is in a private collection. A look, that is turned not at the world, but inward, into the consciousness, is constantly repeated by Redon: he painted both the Mother of God and the Buddha, the old and huge gods who visited the visible world.

The images from Redon’s imagination were as real for him as winds and thunderstorms, as storms and sunlight, everything that cannot be touched, but which can be clearly felt. John Rewald wrote about Redon: “Redon lived in a world of beautiful and restless dreams, inseparable from reality. Since they were real to him, he did not bother to reveal their meaning; he only tried to express them in the most sensual colours, the strongest or most subtle contrasts of black and white.” There is no single interpretation either for the Redon’s dark phantasmagoric noirs, or for his flamboyant, stormy colour works, and there should not be. This fact incredibly infuriated critics, who said sarcastically that the “eye” in Redon’s lithograph could be the eye of Conscience, the eye of Uncertainty, or just a tie-pin. The same fact incredibly provoked the Symbolist poets to seek and formulate the meaning of images in the Redon’s art.

Redon claimed that he did not come up with a certain meaning for his paintings, but he did not mind and even expected that the viewer himself would look for these meanings. He said: “My works inspire, but do not represent themselves. They don’t name anything. Like music, they take us to the world of ambiguity and uncertainty.”

Author: Anna Sidelnikova


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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Portrait

Style of art: Symbolism

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1890

Size: 44×36 cm

Artwork in selections: 9 selections