Odilon Redon is an amorphous artist, who explored the medium of drawing as an idiosyncratic practice. Trained under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Rodolphe Bresdin, this highly conventional path nevertheless led to...
Odilon Redon is an amorphous artist, who explored the medium of drawing as an idiosyncratic practice. Trained under Jean-Léon Gérôme and Rodolphe Bresdin, this highly conventional path nevertheless led to an unparalleled imagination over observation of nature, reinterpreting reality to create extraordinary creatures. Through the technique of lithography and etching, Redon discovered infinite gradations of tone and richness of light and dark. His reputation flourished, due in part to the availability of his prints, and he became a celebrated figure in fin-de-siècle Paris, admired by the Symbolists with whom he shared an enthusiasm for the fantastic, mystical, and sublime forces found beneath the surface of everyday life. Using nature as his starting point, Redon imagined new worlds through his enigmatic creations.
Writers with fantastical imaginations, like Edgar Allen Poe and Gustave Flaubert, inspired an essential part of his work, almost entirely executed in black until 1890, when Redon introduced polychromy. Redon found black the most effective to express emotions and imagination. His fascination with darkness was accompanied by a powerful attraction to the world of the indeterminate, the phantoms of insomnia, and the monstrous dreams and obscure fantasies usually rendered invisible by daylight. His noirs, executed in charcoal or ink, reveal a disturbing world inhabited by deformed beings and shadows.
Exploring the esoteric aspect of the human soul, imbued with the mechanisms of dreams, Redon’s Ecstasy (L’extase) evokes a state of being. A humanish figure with wide open mouth, deformed by a silent cry is pushed out of the luminous cell behind it. Already shrinking and soon to disappear: the transparent blob has released its mysterious nucleus. Ecstasy seems to be angst birthed by the unconscious. Redon’s hybrid creature with its grotesque grimace, oscillating between a human being and an animal, does not impress upon us a state of euphoria.
By his own admission, a title “is not justified unless it is vague, indeterminate, and aspiring, even confusedly equivocal.” To this sentiment Redon added: “My drawings inspire and do not define themselves. They determine nothing. They place us, just as music does, in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate.” Possibly Ecstasy was inspired by C’est l’extase langoureuse, one of Claude Debussy’s most sophisticated experiments in tonal compositions from 1887. Yet Ecstasy does not lend itself to a singular interpretation. Rather, the artist requires us to use our imagination to find meaning according to our own sensitivities and inclinations.
 Lee Hendrix, ed., Noir: The Romance of Black in 19th-Century French Drawings and Prints, exh.cat. The Getty, Los Angeles 2016
Sale, Kornfeld & Klipstein, Berne, 18 June 1965, lot 958, ill. Galerie van de Loo, Munich, 1977, 1986 Private collection, United Kingdom Sale, Christie's, 30 November 1993, lot 128 The Lefevre Gallery, London Private collection, United States Sale, Cornette de Saint Cyr, Paris, 6 July 2011, lot 21 Barry Friedman, New York, 2014 Private collection, New York
New York, David Zwirner, Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art, 12 September - 27 October 2018
World Collectors Annuary, vol. XVII, 1965, no. 3728, p. 376 as Die Ekstase A. Wildenstein, Odilon Redon, catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Portraits et figures, Paris 1998, Vol. I, p. 91, no. 211, ill.