Redon’s Flowers and Cezanne

Although Odilon Redon is best known for his fanciful, pre-Surrealist works like The Cyclops, I am particularly drawn to his still-lifes of flowers in vases. I’m actually quite surprised by this, because I am rarely attracted to still-life paintings. Last fall, when I went to visit the “Monet to Picasso” exhibition at the UMFA, this was my favorite painting in the show:

Vase of Flowers, c. 1905 (Cleveland Museum of Art)

One reason I like this painting so much is because of the background. The layers of different colors create these subtle changes in the background that are really beautiful, giving the painting a kind of ethereal quality.

In a letter to Emile Bernard, Cezanne mentioned that he “liked Redon’s talent enormously.”1 This statement has given some reason for art historians to compare and contrast Cezanne and Redon. In an essay, Rachel Frank argues that “the differences are…striking” between between Redon and Cezanne.2. Although I can agree with Frank to a degree, I see some similarities between Redon and Cezanne, primarily that both artists often apply paint in large patches of color. I especially like the “patches” on the vase (i.e. the blues, browns, whites, and blacks) of the following still-life:

Wild Flowers, gouache, c. 1912 (Musée d’ Orsay)

Not long before Wild Flowers was painted, however, Redon remarked to a journalist that Cezanne’s influence in the art world was fading.3 Although I don’t doubt that Redon was sincere in his disillusionment with Cezanne, I still can’t help but find some similarity between the two artists’ styles. For me, I think that artists use the “patches” of color create different aesthetics. Cezanne’s patches of color are more geometric (notice the rigidity of the squares and rectangles of pigment in the lower right corner of this painting). This geometricity emphasizes the formalistic qualities of the objects portrayed. In contrast, I think that Redon’s “patches” draw more attention to the contrasts, harmonies, and subtilities of color; for me, this fanciful effect creates a more emotional response to Redon’s paintings. I think that the different effects created by the paintings ties into the reason why Redon was disappointed with Cezanne – Redon was more interested in emotion and Symbolism, whereas Cezanne was more interested in formalism. To me, it is no wonder that Redon mentioned in this same interview that he was disappointed with the “theoretical, analytical nature of Cubism” (a formalistic style with which Cezanne is often associated as a precursor).4

Nonetheless, I think that these artists mutually influenced each other during their careers. It seems difficult for artists to not be influenced (whether it be deliberate or unintentional) by their contemporaries. What do you think? Do you see similarities or differences between Redon and Cezanne’s styles?

If you like paintings of Redon’s flowers in vases, you can see more of them here.

1 Elizabeth Basye Gilmore Holt, From the Classicists to the Impressionists: Art and Architecture in the 19th Century, 2nd edition (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1986), 526. Excerpt can be read online here.

2 Rachel Frank, “Cezanne and Redon,” The Hudson Review 4, no. 2 (Summer, 1951): 269

3 Dario Gamboni, Potential Images: Ambiguity and Indeterminacy in Modern Art, (London: Reaktion Books, 2002), 132. Citation can be read online here.

4 Ibid.

  • ixoj says:

    I am unprepared to state an educated opinion on the matter, as I am unsure of what the differences between Cezanns’ formalism and Redon’s symbolism could be. Enlighten me?

  • M says:

    I wondered if perhaps I didn’t explain myself well enough.

    When I mentioned formalism, I was referring to Cezanne’s interests in the formal aspects of the objects that he portrayed. In other words, Cezanne was interested in the flatness of figures, the geometricity of shapes, the flatness of the canvas, and the flat effect that was created by applying “patches” of color.

    I think Redon, however, wasn’t interested in creating or emphasizing flatness through his color “patching.” He seems to be more interested in creating aesthetically-pleasing color combinations and juxtapositions. This makes sense to me, since Redon was a member of the Symbolist movement. This group was interested in many things, including an emphasis on aesthetic issues, emotion, and feeling.

    So, even though I see similarities in the way that these artists applied paint to the canvas, I respond differently to their art (which I think is a good thing, because these artists had different artistic interests and aims).

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.