Tag Archives: 20th century

Odilon Redon Against Nature


Odilon Redon, The Crying Spider, charcoal on paper, 49.5 cm (19.5 in) x 37.5 cm (14.8 in), 1881, private collection, Netherlands

In the 1870’s, Odilon Redon worked mostly in charcoal and lithography, creating visionary works that he called “noirs”.

Though he had published an album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, in 1879, it was not until Joris-Karl Huysmans published his book, À rebours or Against Nature, in 1884 that he received larger notoriety. In the book, an aristocratic art collector named Jean Des Esseintes is fascinated by Redon’s work:

…Des Esseintes had a special weakness for the other frames adorning the room.
They were signed: Odilon Redon.

They enclosed inconceivable apparitions in their rough, gold-striped pear-tree wood. A head of a Merovingian style, resting against a bowl, a bearded man, at once resembling a Buddhist priest and an orator at a public reunion, touching the ball of a gigantic cannon with his fingers; a frightful spider revealing a human face in its body. The charcoal drawings went even farther into dream terrors. Here, an enormous die in which a sad eye winked; there, dry and arid landscapes, dusty plains, shifting ground, volcanic upheavals catching rebellious clouds, stagnant and livid skies. Sometimes the subjects even seemed to have borrowed from the cacodemons of science, reverting to prehistoric times. A monstrous plant on the rocks, queer blocks everywhere, glacial mud, figures whose simian shapes, heavy jaws, beetling eyebrows, retreating foreheads and flat skulls, recalled the ancestral heads of the first quaternary periods, when inarticulate man still devoured fruits and seeds, and was still contemporaneous with the mammoth, the rhinoceros and the big bear. These designs were beyond anything imaginable; they leaped, for the most part, beyond the limits of painting and introduced a fantasy that was unique, the fantasy of a diseased and delirious mind.

And, indeed, certain of these faces, with their monstrous, insane eyes, certain of these swollen, deformed bodies resembling carafes, induced in Des Esseintes recollections of typhoid, memories of feverish nights and of the shocking visions of his infancy which persisted and would not be suppressed.

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, oil on canvas, 739 mm (29.09 in) x 549 mm (21.61 in), circa 1910, Museum of Modern Art, New York

By the late nineteenth century Redon had switched to oils and pastels, and in 1913 he was featured in the New York Armory Show. Both he and Joris-Karl Huysmans became important figures in the history of symbolist art and literature.





Blackwood’s Dark Nature

Some snippets from the weird tales of Algernon Blackwood

From The Willows (1907)

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos

Reproduction of a painting by Maurits Willem van der Valk (1857-1935), from the book Dutch Art in the 19th Century (1909) by G. Hermine Marius, translated by Alexander Teixeira De Mattos


The change came suddenly, as when a series of bioscope pictures snaps down on the streets of a town and shifts without warning into the scenery of lake and forest. We entered the land of desolation on wings, and in less than half an hour there was neither boat nor fishing-hut nor red roof, nor any single sign of human habitation and civilization within sight. The sense of remoteness from the world of humankind, the utter isolation, the fascination of this singular world of willows, winds, and waters, instantly laid its spell upon us both, so that we allowed laughingly to one another that we ought by rights to have held some special kind of passport to admit us, and that we had, somewhat audaciously, come without asking leave into a separate little kingdom of wonder and magic—a kingdom that was reserved for the use of others who had a right to it, with everywhere unwritten warnings to trespassers for those who had the imagination to discover them.

From The Man Whom the Trees Loved (1912)

He painted trees as by some special divining instinct of their essential qualities. He understood them. He knew why in an oak forest, for instance, each individual was utterly distinct from its fellows, and why no two beeches in the whole world were alike. People asked him down to paint a favorite lime or silver birch, for he caught the individuality of a tree as some catch the individuality of a horse. How he managed it was something of a puzzle, for he never had painting lessons, his drawing was often wildly inaccurate, and, while his perception of a Tree Personality was true and vivid, his rendering of it might almost approach the ludicrous. Yet the character and personality of that particular tree stood there alive beneath his brush—shining, frowning, dreaming, as the case might be, friendly or hostile, good or evil. It emerged.

And finally, from Sand (1912)

Already something in himself had changed. A restlessness, as of that wandering wind, woke in his heart—the desire to be off and away. Other things could rouse this wildness too: falling water, the singing of a bird, an odour of wood-fire, a glimpse of winding road. But the cry of wind, always searching, questioning, travelling the world’s great routes, remained ever the master-touch. High longing took his mood in hand. Mid seven millions he felt suddenly—lonely.

“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”