French Symbolist painter, printmaker, draughtsman, and pastellist Bertrand-Jean Redon or Odilon Redon (April 20, 1840 – July 06, 1916) was an eminent frontrunner of ‘Post-Impressionism’ and ‘Symbolism.’ He was only 10 when he won a drawing prize at school. Odilon began studying drawing formally at 15, but had to switch to architecture on his father’s insistence. He was back to painting, once he failed to pass the entrance for architecture, at École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. The creator of the “Portrait of Violette Heymann,” Redon, studied etching and lithography under Rodolphe Bresdin, until his artistic career again had to take a break when he joined army in the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870.
The year 1878 gained Odilon recognition, with his creations the ‘Guardian Spirit of the Waters’ and his first album of lithographs, ‘Dans le Rêve’ in 1879. In 1890s, he started using pastels and oils, which was heavily seen in his works for the rest of his life. He added a couple of etchings and lithographs catalogs to his count, later in life. Odilon’s works were hugely imaginative, which ranged right from a human headed spider to quaking ground. His popular works included ‘Spirit of the Forest’ (1880), ‘Cactus Man’ (1881), ‘The Crying Spider’ (1881), ‘The Buddha’ (1904), and the “Portrait of Violette Heymann.”
The “Portrait of Violette Heymann,” created during the last years of Redon’s life in 1910, was one an immensely imaginative work. Measuring 72 cm x 92 cm, this pastel work displays a young woman, Violette Heymann, surrounded by many, intensely colored, blooming, and somewhat unfinished flowers around. To match up with the theme ‘Violette,’ Odilon has made an ample use of violet color. Violette is shown sideways, sitting on a chair, which is supporting just her back, while her neck and head stay unsupported. She looks passive, owing to her expressionless flat face. Her dress is also quite simple without much elaboration and style. She is a wearing a white colored, high neck inner, with a greenish-blue upper having golden border. Her black hair is shoulder length and is pinned at her back.
Odilon Redon described his works as ambiguous and indefinable. He explains, “I have often, as an exercise and as sustenance, painted before an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an insatiate thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased.” Reflecting his own thinking and psyche through his work, Redon tried to “place the visible at the service of the invisible.” The same ambiguity is reflected in Violette’s expression, owing to which Odilon’s this artwork always gathered mixed reactions. The “Portrait of Violette Heymann” is presently displayed at the Museum of Art at Cleveland, Ohio.