Odilon REDON: La Peur, 1st state - 1866
Etching, 140 x 224 mm. Mellerio 6, Harrison 7, i/iii.
Extremely rare impression of the first state (of 3), with the date engraved top left in the margin of the copperplate and the signature engraved bottom left in the margin of the copperplate. In 1986, Sharon R. Harrison quotes the only three known impressions: one in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the second in Museum of fine arts in Boston and the third one in a private swiss collection.
Superb impression, printed with deep contrasts on wove paper, signed in pencil Odilon Redon and dedicated à Monsieur Dumont.
Scattered foxing, a pale staining in the upper margin, otherwise in good condition. Wide margins (sheet: 269 x 357 mm).
In 1866, Odilon Redon, aged 26 years old, was living in Bordeaux, where he regularly met with Rodolphe Bresdin who was teaching him engraving. Though Redon's first etchings borrowed from Bresdin's technique and style, however the subject matter and the atmosphere were already very much his own.
The print’s title, La Peur, was given by Odilon Redon: it can be found under the year 1866 in his list of his works called “livre de raison” (Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, Ms 42820). In a rocky landscape that is typical of Bresdin's etchings, but was also dear to Redon since he discovered the Pyrénées, a man riding a horse holds a child close to him while he rides towards a precipice. Sensing the danger, the horse rears up. Valérie Sueur-Hermel notes that neither the precipice nor the child were mentioned in Mellerio's description, but “the mysterious presence of this child was revealed by Sharon Harrison and allowed her to identify a probable inspiration for the subject matter (1986, p. XXIX): Goethe's ballad Erlkönig [The Elf-King], which was known in France through a translation by Charles Nodier.” (our translation)
We quote the beginning of this poem in E. A. Bowring's translation:
“Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp'd in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.”
The poem ends with the child's death:
“The father now gallops, with terror half wild,
He grasps in his arms the poor shuddering child;
He reaches his courtyard with toil and with dread, –
The child in his arms finds he motionless, dead.”
Valérie Sueur-Hermel remarks that “the theme of the threatened child is a regular one in Redon's oeuvre”, and that “it could be an allusion to the childhood illness he suffered, a form of epilepsy that was cured miraculously in 1846.” She adds that the monogram “OR” on the coat of the rider could be a confirmation of this personal link. It also evokes the monogram “BR”, for his master Rodolphe Bresdin, which is often hidden in his works.
References: André Mellerio: Odilon Redon, Peintre, Dessinateur et Graveur, 1923; Dr. Sharon R. Harrison: The Etchings of Odilon Redon: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1986; Rodolphe Rapetti (dir.) : Odilon Redon, Prince du Rêve, 1840-1916, 2011.