Odilon Redon ( French, 1840 - 1916 )
In this intimate lithograph, Odilon Redon portrays Helene, a pretty young courtesan. Wearing a veil and turning her head to the right, she stands in front of an indistinct backdrop. Silent women with closed eyes recur in Redon's work as sleepers, dreamers, or visionaries. Helene, a principle figure in the pagan religion of Simonism, was said to be the reincarnation of Ennoia, the female half of God and Mother of the earth. She breathed thought into the gods, angels, and man. Symbolists strove to portray the unique human capacity of thought. No doubt Redon reveled in finding a narrative within history to embody this attribute.
Redon was a prolific lithographer, producing more than two hundred print editions. The dense modulations from light to dark behind Helene are Redon's device for creating an opaque, ethereal aura around this personification of thought. This composition's ambiguity mirrors the liminal space Symbolist art represents, neither factual nor unintelligible.
Brittany Luberda, DMA label copy, 2010.