Redon's Debt to the Critical Essays of Baudelaire


Baudelaire's œuvre and, in particular, his critical essays, not only furnished Redon with many of his ideas and images, but more importantly they confirmed, if not inspired, his æsthetic principles and proclivities. It is a known fact that the artist had a thorough knowledge of Baudelaire's works, including much of his correspondence, and that he was in close association with some of the poet's friends as well as with the young intellectuals of the day who were Baudelaire enthusiasts. Redon's theories expressed in the Salon de 1868, his Journal, and his letters, all testify to the Baudelairean influence. He too views genius as childhood "retrouvé à volonté" and considers imagination a sort of divinity to which all other faculties are subordinate. Rooted in observed reality and at the same time aided by the use of the dream and by what the artist calls "suggestive ambiguity," art reveals to the viewer both the outer world and the inner world of its creator – a world from which morality and utility must be excluded. The actual practice of Redon reveals a close kinship with Baudelaire's conception of beauty. Melancholy, mystery, and the belief that the strange, the ugly, and the horrible can be transformed into beauty are obvious in his choice subject. In fact, Baudelaire's references to the "extra-scientific" conjectures of Hugo's work relate directly to some of Redon's noirs and especially to those in his album Dans le rêve. Thus it may be said that in theory and in practice Redon, like Baudelaire himself, is an heir of Romanticism, an adherent of Symbolism, and, in certain aspects of his work, a distant-though unintentional-precursor of Surrealism. (LBH/FEH)

Hyslop, Francis E, and Lois Boe Hyslop
Release Year:
1986-1987 Fall-Winter; 15(1-2): 141-61.