Odilon Redon is a symbolist painter, who wanted to place “the logic of the visible in the service of the invisible.” His works, described by his contemporaries as “a synthesis of nightmares and dreams” contained dark, fantastical figures from his own imagination. Not fitting neatly into any art movement or school, his dreamlike and mysterious paintings are completely unique in the scope of art history.
Like most Cyclops in mythology, Polyphemus was often villainized as a savage creature. However Redon has taken this myth and given Polyphemus a makeover. Here, he is shown as a non-threatening passive creature, softly gazing with a large eye and hiding from Galatea behind the rocky terrain. Redon's departure from the normal depiction of Polyphemus was influenced by his dream-like style and ambivalence toward the artistic norm.
Apollo is recognized as the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more. In 1878, Redon, in a study of Delacroix, praised that artist's ceiling in the Louvre showing the Chariot of Apollo, and in the same year he noted in his journal his admiration for a painting of Phaethon by Gustave Moreau. Between 1905 and 1916 Redon devoted a number of oils, pastels and watercolors to the theme of horses of the sun, driven, according to classical mythology, by the god Apollo or his son Phaëthon.
‘Nasturtiums’ by Odilon Redon
As a young man, Redon was fascinated with Darwinian biology and enjoyed a close friendship with Armand Clavaud, the curator of the botanical gardens in his hometown of Bordeaux.
Large Vase with Flowers (1912) by Odilon Redon
He painted his still life florals later into his life. They are perhaps his most straightforward paintings -- but with his dreamlike touch and richly inventive imagination, he combined many different types of blooms and foliage in an effervescent display.
Redon combines palm fronds with blooms in a fantastical blue and ochre color scheme. The title identifies the vase as Etruscan, but it was likely a modern ceramic imitating an ancient example from the Mediterranean region.