The first thing that strikes me about Odilon Redon’s Two Trees is the almost threatening atmosphere. Even though the scene incorporates very light areas that appear to possibly be the paper -Redon is known to have scratched pigment away right back to the ground [ref1] – it seems to me to depict a night-time scene. The depth of shadows behind the trees seem to contain suggestions of sinister figures.
Review of his other work reveals many pieces that are highly unsettling, and high contrasts between the lights and shadows contribute to this greatly. Redon’s trees seem anthropomorphised to me in many cases and this adds to the discomfort. Interestingly, this next picture employs a similar balance of light and dark tones with great contrast as the one above, yet seems to me to be lit by bright sunlight. The subject matter is no less eerie so I find this hard to fathom.
Another piece in which Redon employs large, almost solid black areas is ‘The Black Torches’ where he has drawn a fallen torch belching thick acrid smoke which rises up towards the ceiling and obscures the background of the scene.
The way that the figures appear to have drawn back from the torch instead of righting it adds to the disquieting atmosphere.
In Redon’s 1868 piece, ‘Landscape’, he uses high contrast to evoke a positive, anticipatory feeling. I think the drawing is of a momentous sunrise. Redon picks out the figures and foliage in the foreground with sharp highlights whilst using heavy shadow on the near side of the huge tree to accentuate the light coming over the horizon behind it.
Odilon Redon uses high contrast to great effect in his noirs. In the below-referenced article [ref1], the author discusses Redon’s use of fixatives during the process of working on his drawings. I’m interested to try this method in order to keep the deep shadows, having recently blown half a drawing away inadvertently!
I think Redon would have been extremely excited to have seen the development of pigments like Vantablack [ref 2].
1. ‘A Technical Investigation of Odilon Redon’s Pastels and Noirs’ by Harriet K. Stratis, writing in the Book and Paper Group Annual for the American institute of Conservation.
2. Vantablack https://www.surreynanosystems.com/vantablack-s-vis