Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
John B Scott
Fourth Committee Member
From approximately 1900 until 1914, Odilon Redon worked almost exclusively on decorative projects, both privately and publicly commissioned. Additionally, he created numerous uncomissioned decorative works - highly ornamental paintings with decorative subject matter that were conceived of by the artist himself as decorations. Yet despite the fact that decorative works made up a significant portion of Redon's late oeuvre, he is rarely considered as a major figure within the decorative arts movement at the turn of the century, unlike his contemporaries Paul Gauguin and the Nabis. His close involvement with these artists, as well as his affiliation with a number of the same important critics, makes his exclusion from discussion of the decorative revival all the more surprising. There has been very little scholarship on Redon's decorative works that consider them in in relation to the international decorative movement. Nevertheless, his late works actively engaged with the avant-garde aesthetic theories of the time. My dissertation will place Redon in the context of the decorative and Symbolist art movements by examining the profusion of decorative projects with which he was involved during the last decades of his career. By considering important themes within these movements, like elevation of craft arts, the encouragement of floral designs, the revival of religious and mythological subject matter, and principles regarding the unification of the arts, I argue that Redon warrants consideration as a decorative painter at the turn of the century in France.
My first chapter introduces the idea of the decorative revival in the nineteenth century, and considers the way the definition of the term "decorative" evolved during the period. I also present the historiography of Redon scholarship, as it relates to his decorative works. The second chapter examines the historical background of the decorative and Symbolist movements in the nineteenth century. I focus first on the pan-European decorative revival, especially in England and Belgium, then examining how this influenced French art. The Symbolist artistic movement developed simultaneously, and as such, I will examine the ways in which the two movements overlapped. Finally, I consider how Redon's artistic development was affected in this aesthetic climate.
Subsequent chapters examine specific themes in Redon's decorative oeuvre, and how these related to ideas and undercurrents in the general decorative and Symbolist art movements. Chapter three focuses on flowers and nature as decoration, exploring the increase of floral imagery in both decoration and Symbolist painting, and how Redon adapted his own artistic language from these influences. Chapter four examines the revival of traditional imagery from religious and mythological subjects, as well as occultist themes, and explores the way Redon used his decorative style to create new symbolic meanings for these themes. Chapter five focuses on Redon's murals at the Abbaye de Fontfroide, in which I argue that they represent a modern Gesamtkunstwerk. My final chapter underscores Redon's place within the decorative and Symbolist movements and examines the influence he exerted on his contemporaries through his use of the decorative arts.
xvii, 430 pages
Copyright © 2013 Abigail Eileen Yoder
Yoder, Abigail Eileen. "Decoration and symbolism in the late works of Odilon Redon." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2013.