Odilon Redon was, hands down, the most popular of the contemporary European artists who exhibited at the Armory Show. He was little known in the United States before 1913, but the massive representation of his work in New York changed that. He had thirty-nine oils, pastels, and charcoal drawings hanging in Gallery J, which was devoted to French art but was dominated by Redon. His prints hung with European and American works on paper nearby in Gallery K. The fifteen-page pamphlet Odilon Redon by Walter Pach was offered for sale at the exhibition. In it, Pach described Redon’s intensity, and his life-long preoccupation with “expressing the dream.”
The majority of Redon’s paintings and pastels on view were relatively recent, dating from 1900 to 1912. He was still creating black and white prints during those years, but in his paintings and pastels this was a period of rich color and fantastical imagery with an overall serene, lyrical feel. He derived his subject matter from mythology, as in Head of Orpheus; from masterpieces by earlier artists, as in Le Silence; and from his own rich interior life, as in Profil nour sur fond or, No. 111 (now titled Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Portrait painted after the death of the painter), an evocative posthumous portrait of one of his closest friends.
Redon’s opulent color and poetic and mysterious imagery made his work a hit with the press and the public alike. Even the most conservative critics praised him as “a purposeful dreamer” and his work as “fantastically beautiful art, very far from life, admirably true to its own vision.” Brisk sales of Redon’s work at the show’s New York venue illustrate the public’s enthusiasm. Thirteen of his paintings and pastels and twenty prints were sold to tastemakers including Daniel Morgan, Lillie P. Bliss, and John Quinn. Armory Show exhibitors Katherine Dreier and Robert Chanler purchased Redon lithographs, and the critic Harriet Monroe bought one in Chicago.
Megan Fort, Ph.D., Research Assistant
The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.