Odilon Redon (French, 1840-1916)
pastel, Sheet - h:68.80 w:56.80 cm (h:27 1/16 w:22 5/16 inches). Gift from J. H. Wade 1926.25
For much of his career, Redon considered black "the
prince of colors" and was known for his fantastical
charcoal drawings and velvety black-and-white
lithographs that he called Les Noirs. In 1895, he wrote
to the artist Emile Bernard that he wanted to begin
working in color, and from that point onward, the
hallucinatory images of death and terror abated in
favor of paintings in oil and pastel in brilliant hues.
Orpheus, like Mystery (also on view in this gallery),
features a disembodied head against a decorative
background. According to Greek mythology, after the
poet and musician Orpheus was brutally killed by
Maenads, his severed head, still singing, floated down
a river and came to rest on the isle of Lesbos. Rather
than focusing on the macabre aspect of the myth,
Redon's pastel is a dreamlike reflection on the theme.
The sleeping head resting on a lyre is framed by a
background of glittering purple and gold, evocative of
a magical netherworld.