Interpretive Resource

Examination: Redon's Artistic Style and Symbolism

Learn how this pastel marks the union of two genres within Redon's oeuvre - his floral still lifes and his mystical paintings of boats - while simultaneously marking a bold foray into chromatic abstraction.

Art Institute of Chicago. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in The Art Institute of Chicago. Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 162.

Upon completing this brilliantly colored pastel, Odilon Redon recorded the following entry in one of his notebooks: "A ship on a stretch of water and under a sky whose clouds are like flowers." Accordingly, he entitled the work Flower Clouds. A spectacular mosaic of luminous hues, the pastel marks the union of two previously distinct and important genres within Redon’s oeuvre—his floral still lifes and his mystical paintings of boats—while simultaneously marking a bold foray into chromatic abstraction.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Redon, responding to the pressures of the market, began to produce large quantities of brightly colored, floral still lifes. Although this decision entailed a certain thematic repetitiveness, the artist did not abandon the esoteric iconography of the Symbolists, with whom he had associated in the 1890s. Sharing their preference for motifs that could evoke moral concerns and emotional states, Redon focused on the boat as a symbol for a spiritual journey, returning to it repeatedly in his pastels and paintings. In Flower Clouds, a small skiff carries two hastily sketched passengers over a calm sea or lake. The figures seem to surrender themselves to fate, huddling together away from the rudder, relinquishing control of the vessel as they observe the spectacular effects of the setting sun against the sky. Vivid reflections of the "flower clouds" in the water below create a visual echo, blurring the boundary between illusionistic representation and abstract patterning. Redon used similar strategies in the decorative panels, screens, and tapestries that he started making at around this same time.

boats, flowers, symbolism, water


High School

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