Symbolic Head

Symbolic Head

c. 1890

Odilon Redon

(French, 1840-1916)

Oil on paper mounted on canvas

Framed: 69 x 54.5 x 7.5 cm (27 3/16 x 21 7/16 x 2 15/16 in.); Unframed: 53.3 x 38 cm (21 x 14 15/16 in.)

Gift of the Mildred Andrews Fund 1988.91

Description

One of Redon's favorite themes of the 1880s and 1890s was a human head depicted in profile. This motif came from his representations of severed heads, often carried aloft on wings, published in the artist's first album of prints, Dans le rêve (1879). In these images, the separation of the head from the body symbolizes the spirit released from the material world. It also suggests a metaphor for abandoning physical reality for the inner realm of dreams, fantasy, and poetic reverie. This painting conveys the idea of inward-turning vision by framing the head in a series of collapsing rectangles. Redon isolated the head even further by painting a horizontal rectangle or "ledge" over the lower part of the figure's body, which originally extended to the bottom edge of the composition. Conservation analysis confirms that the figure is a woman wearing a helmet and holding a green staff in her right hand. However, her exact identity is not known, largely because after altering the crest and other aspects of the helmet, Redon abandoned the painting in an unresolved state.

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