Odilon Redon

Edited by Claire Moran

Critical Texts 1

Modern Humanities Research Association

30 June 2005  •  156pp

ISBN: 0-947623-63-9 (paperback)  •  RRP £14.99, $19.99, €17.99

ISBN: 978-1-122849-96-8 (Google ebook)  •  RRP £4.95

Sample: Google Books


This is the first-ever edition of nine fictional writings by the French painter, Odilon Redon (1840-1916). The text has been established from a transcription made by André Mellerio, which is currently housed at the Art Institute of Chicago (the original manuscript being unavailable).

This edition seeks to contextualise Redon’s texts within his oeuvre as well as in relation to the artistic developments in nineteenth-century France. A lengthy introduction in French is followed by the nine texts which are divided into four sections: Autobiographical writings; Travel writings; Fantastical texts; and Literary sketches.

Odilon Redon remains one of the central figures in nineteenth-century Word and Image studies. While his lithographs and pastels are inspired by literary themes, he also collaborated with writers, most significantly, Stéphane Mallarmé, to produce illustrated editions of their work. Moreover, his book, À soi-même constitutes a landmark in nineteenth-century autobiographical writing. While the literary aspect of Redon’s work has been the focus of a body of criticism, the existence of a series of fictional writings by the painter has been overlooked.

The introduction first outlines the literary aspect of Redon’s work and emphasises the significance of these newly-published texts. It is argued that the writings complement Redon’s existing volume, À soi-même and also reflect many of the themes of his graphic work, in particular.

The writings are then considered in the light of the literary trends of the nineteenth century. Attention is drawn to the inter-relationship of art and literature in nineteenth-century France, mentioning key figures, such as Fromentin and Baudelaire. The role of the fantastic is discussed in opposition to realism and how writers such as Maupassant sought out new ways of representing reality. The short-story format, associated with the fantastic genre is also considered and the development of the prose-poem in the nineteenth century is also highlighted. Also discussed are the sociological developments which led to the rise of autobiography and fictions of the self, along with the increase in travel writing during this period.

It is against this historical and literary background that the nine texts of the volume are closely analysed.

The first section offers a close reading of the two texts, ‘1870 décembre’ and ‘Le Fakir’. The first recounts the author’s experiences as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian war and offers Redon’s somewhat disillusioned meditations on man’s propensity towards violence and desire for power. The second text, written the same year, is entirely different, offering a tongue-in-cheek self-portrait of the artist as a fakir. Redon’s fakir lives in a modern world, tainted by decadence and falsehood, a far cry from the reality of the Franco-Prussian war.

The second section considers ‘Un Séjour dans le pays basque’ and ‘Le Récit de Marthe la folle’. The first follows on from the autobiographical genre, as it relates Redon’s 1861 trip to the Basque country. It is, above all, the exoticism of this place and its inhabitants which the artist highlights. The Basque country is home to a type of primitivism which also inspired many of Redon’s drawings. In the second story, it is the underside of this primitive world which comes to the fore. The heroine, 19-year-old Marthe, is captured by a gorilla, when her ship falls prey to a storm at the Cape of Good Hope. Redon brings together the themes of the force of nature, madness and the unconscious in his description of Marthe’s demise.

The following section follows on from the sense of ambiguity surrounding the figure of Marthe to discuss two texts which fall into the category of the fantastic, ‘Une histoire incompréhensible’ and ‘Nuit de fièvre’. The first text also holds an element of travel writing, as it depicts the author’s journey by night on a train. However, the story focuses on the strange encounter between the young narrator and a mysterious older woman, who paralyses him while he sleeps. The second story also focuses on a strange encounter; this time, the narrator, spending a night in an unknown house is confronted with a beast who appears to be locked in a trunk in his bedroom.

Redon’s experimentations in the genre of the fantastic are reflected in his experimentations in prose poetry, discussed in the third section. ‘Le Cri’, ‘La Ronde d’amour’ and ‘Il Rêve’ are essentially poetical texts. The first offers a brief meditation on one of the artist’s most recurrent themes: the divisions between the human and the animal world. The second text is a celebration of life itself focusing on the dancing of young girls, while the third text serves as an imaginative psychological regression.

It is concluded that these texts offer a close insight into the importance Redon attributed to the medium of literature as a form of artistic expression. He remains one of the few international artists to have fully exploited the expressive potential of fiction in particular. The discovery and publication of these texts raise new issues, not only in relation to Redon’s artistic impulses, but also about the complementarity of the visual and the verbal in nineteenth-century France and on a wider scale, lead us to consider the role of artists in the shaping of modern literature.


  • ‘The most interesting recent insight into Redon and his work emerges from this slender edition of his own early writings, carefully edited and presented by Claire Moran.’ — Natalie Adamson, Modern Language Review 101.4, 2006, 1131 (full text online)
  • ‘Ce recueil ne manquera pas de susciter l'approfondissement d'études antérieures ou de nouvelles analyses sur l'expression écrite et picturale de Redon. En tant que chercheur, nous ne pouvons qu'encourager ce genre de collection qui facilite notre travail et nous offre par conséquent de nouveaux horizons de recherche.’ — Béatrice Vernier-Larochette, Dalhousie French Studies 76, 2006, 168-69
  • ‘Claire Moran's exemplary introduction shows ... that Redon stood 'au cœur du chassé-croisé entre art et littérature' at the start of the twentieth century ... This publication will be heartily welcomed by all devotees of Redon's strange œuvre.’ — Peter Low, New Zealand Journal of French Studies 27.2, 2006, 52-53

Bibliography entry:

Moran, Claire (ed.), Odilon Redon: Écrits, Critical Texts, 1 (Cambridge: MHRA, 2005)

First footnote reference: 35 Odilon Redon: Écrits, ed. by Claire Moran, Critical Texts, 1 (Cambridge: MHRA, 2005), p. 21.

Subsequent footnote reference: 37 Moran, p. 47.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

Bibliography entry:

Moran, Claire (ed.). 2005. Odilon Redon: Écrits, Critical Texts, 1 (Cambridge: MHRA)

Example citation: ‘A quotation occurring on page 21 of this work’ (Moran 2005: 21).

Example footnote reference: 35 Moran 2005: 21.

(To see how these citations were worked out, follow this link.)

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