Research Point 1 – Odilon Redon, Two Trees

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From  – https://www.wikiart.org/en/odilon-redon/two-trees-1875  (1875, Charcoal on paper, 49.5 x 63.5 cm)

The drawing above was made using charcoal on paper in 1875 by Odilon Redon.

The artwork is clearly of two tree trunks in what looks like the entrance a forest or wood.  The trees have an almost human like quality and it looks like they are embracing each other with the tree on the left whispering something to the one on the right.  There is what looks like a path running from the front of the image and passes through the centre of the two trees and leaves the painting as some steps up a small hill.

The words that come to mind when I see this are: darkness, light, anthropomorphism, glade, wood, gnarled, rough, bumpy texture, bark, fairytale.

Although this an image we have to look at as part of Drawing 1, there is a great deal which attracts me to it and would have enjoyed looking at it even if it weren’t compulsory.  The sense of fantasy appeals to me, it wouldn’t look out of place in Tolkiens work which are my favourite books.  I also like the intrigue the piece creates, where are the stairs leading?  Are these the only two trees in the wood?  I mentioned Tolkien as I get the sense that when you turn your back on the trees they would spring into life as the tree on the left in particular looks like it is in an unnatural pose as if it has just been caught.

When you first look at the drawing you are drawn to the space between the two trees, like an entrance way leading you to the steps, you then notice the entrance is guarded by the two big trees and then finally you notice the tree details like the gnarled branch and the texture of the trunk.

There are a variety of different lines made in this drawing.  The tree on the left has twists and curves that follow the shape of the bent trunk, there are also shorter lines to give the texture of the bark higher up in the shadow.  The tree on the right has much straighter vertical lines to show perhaps it is a younger tree, it is less deformed and has a smoother texture.  Around the trees are lighter more free lines of the small plants on the path with longer lines to show the shadow from the trees.  In the centre the dark entrance is created by dark small close shading.

The shapes too are varied, the right tree is almost like a long cylinder and the left tree is a more twisted shape but still fundamentally is a cylinder.  Both are shaded to show the concave and bulges associated with old trees.

Tone is used with exceptional detail in this piece.  There are very dark areas to areas of light where the sun is shining down.  In between are a whole range of mid-tones created using close shading and some hatches.  Overall thought there is a very soft blended almost warm feeling even though it is a monochrome piece.  There are no harsh lines between the different shades and the tones blend in to create a very realistic piece of work.

Odilon Redon created this piece around the year 1875.  Redon was a French painter born in 1840 and so was around 35 years old when he drew this, he was known as a symbolist painter.  In 1870 he served in the Franco-Prussian war and so this was drawn just after he had seen battle.  He called his series of dark drawings which were done in shades of black his noirs. and it was not until 1878 that his work gained any recognition with Guardian Spirit of the Waters, therefore Two Trees was made before he was well known.

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Guardian Spirit of the Waters (47 x 38 cm, charcoal on paper, 1878)

 

In Guardian Spirit of the Waters, Redon is still using charcoal on paper to create a very dramatic, atmospheric piece.  Again there is a huge range of tones from very dark shadows around the face to bright highlights on the boat and lit part of the face.  It is a very strange piece in that it should be scary and nightmarish with a giant head floating above a small boat but the dream like quality makes it more fantasy like than frightening.

After 1900, Redon moved on from his noirs to use colours and pastel work, often using Buddha in his drawings:

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This is moving away from a style that was reliant on monochrome tones but Redon still captures the mystical fantasy atmosphere in his work.  The plant towards the front of the picture for example is drawn in a very fleeting whimsical way to give it an ethereal quality.  The patches of colour in the background are a mix of tones which again helps create the unreal impressionistic atmosphere.

 

References:

https://www.wikiart.org/en/odilon-redon/two-trees-1875

http://www.theartstory.org/movement-symbolism.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odilon_Redon 

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/90316

http://www.artic.edu/aic/resources/resource/408