Odilon Redon’s (Unsolved) Mystery
Symbolist art originated as a literary movement. Its proponents focused on the unconscious, believing that reality could not be perceived properly through the five senses. Art of this movement emphasizes dream-like imagery without concrete meanings.
Dating back to my first high school art history class, I have known for certain that Odilon Redon is my favorite artist. I fell in love with the whimsical nature of his paintings that all seem to take place in the same wonderful fantasy world. I feel as if Redon’s paintings are like storybook illustrations come to life, leaving the viewer like a small child in amazement over the colorful pages before them.
Viewing Redon’s Mystery (c. 1910), I feel that the work embodies its title. The subject matter in itself is a mystery, and the mysterious figure in the painting seems to contemplate a further mystery of his own. My first impression of the piece was a romantic scene of a gentlemen holding out a bouquet of flowers, perhaps to a beau or to me, the viewer. The scene appeared to take place in a heavenly realm, possibly signifying the man in the painting as a god-like figure. However, after observing the difference between the colors in the figure’s face and hands, it seemed to my eyes that the figure’s serene expression had morphed into a mask held up to his face. Suddenly, the man’s shimmering long, brown hair became a foreboding, hooded cloak. Instead of holding out Redon’s signature flowers, it now appeared that the masked man was hiding behind the foliage.
It’s curious to me that as soon as the suggestion of the mask in Redon’s painting was proposed, I saw Mystery in a completely different context. Originally a scene from a dream-like realm, Mystery soon became a cautionary symbol that “nothing is what it seems.”
Rachel Milkovich, Marketing Intern