The J. Paul Getty Museum


Object Details




Odilon Redon (French, 1840 - 1916)




France (Place Created)


about 1880–1890


Charcoal, powdered charcoal, and yellow pastel, with stumping on brown wove paper, fixed from the recto and verso

Object Number:



52.5 × 37.3 cm (20 11/16 × 14 11/16 in.)

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Object Description

This is one of Odilon Redon's noirs, charcoal drawings that he made over several decades in the late 1800s and so named for their dark tones and mysterious, often nightmarish, imagery.

Here, strong black strokes of charcoal cover much of the warm-toned paper, creating an atmosphere of primordial gloom. From this dark void the capped head of a bearded figure appears. A strong, supernatural light emanates from him, and yet his eyes are cast in mysterious shadow. He smiles slightly.

Rays of light shine down from an orb above the figure's head; the orb is shaped like a thought-bubble that seems to connote thoughts or imagination--or put more abstractly, the cerebral act that precedes creation. And perhaps creation is what the artist has implied here: the first passages in the book of Genesis that describe God's creation of heaven and earth and the division of day from night.

On the other hand, the drawing's imagery is subtle and obtuse. Like a dream, the elements cannot add up to a purely rationalized experience.

Art + Ideas Podcast: Lee Hendrix on Noir

Noir: The Romance of Black in 19th Century French Drawings and Prints (February 9 to May 15, 2016)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), February 9 to May 15, 2016