L’Ange du Destin (The Angel of Destiny)

Date
ca. 1899

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
91 x 81 cm

Date
ca. 1899

Medium
oil on canvas

Dimension
91 x 81 cm

L’Ange du Destin (The Angel of Destiny) is a painting by the Symbolist artist Odillon Redon, acquired through Nicholas Hall by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Inscription

with the Vollard label for his stock number 4007 on the stretcher, the stock number repeated in blue chalk

Provenance

The artist, from whom acquired on 28 February 1899 by his friend and dealer

Ambroise Vollard (dealer; 1866-1939), Paris, stock nos. 4338 and 4007, by whom bequeathed, amongst other paintings, to his mistress,

Madeleine de Galéa, née Mor[e]au (1874-1956) and her son, Robert de Galéa, Poissy and Chantilly, France, 1939

Alexander Donskoï and Andrée Stassart, Paris, by 1963

Donskoï sale; Oury, palais Galliera, Paris, 6 December 1963, lot 72 (reproduced, pl. 20)

with Galleria Galatea, Turin, by 1970

with Andrée Stassart, Paris, by 1971

Private collection, Turin, until 2012, when acquired by the following

Private collection, France

with Nicholas Hall, New York, 2018

sold by Nicholas Hall to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2019

EXHIBITED

(Possibly) Paris, Ambroise Vollard, rue Laffitte (there were four one-man shows of Redon between 1898 and 1904, without published catalogues).

Paris, Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Odilon Redon: Exposition au Profit des Orphelins des Arts, 14 May – 14 July 1963, no. 13, reproduced (image reversed), as ‘Le Mauvais ange’ (lent by M. and Mme. A.-N. Donskoï ; catalogued with the oversight of the artist’s son, Arï Redon).

San Francisco, Civil Auditorium, From Gericault to Our Time, 12-28 May 1966, page 7, no. 17, reproduced.

New York and Geneva, Galerie Albert Loeb & Krugier Gallery, Hommage to Odilon Redon, 1967, as ‘L’Ange du Bizarre’.

Zurich, Gallery 21, Accrochage 1, Summer 1970, reproduced, as ‘L’Ange du destin’.

Turin, Galleria Galatea, Del Simbolismo, 20 October – 18 November 1970, reproduced.

Paris, Musée Galliera, Esthètes et Magiciens, 1970–71, no. 142, reproduced (lent by Andrée Stassart).

Paris, Andrée Stassart, Accrochage 2, 1971, reproduced in color.

Riehen and Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Odilon Redon, 2 February 2014 – 18 May 2014, page 170, as c. 1900, reproduced page 117.

New York, David Zwirner, organized in association with Nicholas Hall, Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art September 12 – October 27, 2018.

 

LITERATURE

Vollard Dealer Archive, edited by G. White, Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, Special Collections, Section 71, ‘Redon sales lists 2’, White’s number 390, Redon sale to Vollard on 28 February 1899, ‘“Mauvais Ange accroupi” sorte de barque ou des ailes p[einture]. toile’, as one of 17 paintings purchased for 1000 francs.

Vollard stockbook, unnumbered manuscript ledger, 1895-1900, Vollard Archives, Paris, Archives nationales (Archives des musées nationaux), housed at the Musée d’Orsay, Bibliothèque de la conservation, MS 421 (4,5), p. 125, entry for 2 March 1899, ‘Redon dix sept peintures’, 1000 francs.

Vollard ‘Stockbook B’, manuscript ledger, c. June 1904-c. December 1907, Vollard Archives, Paris, Archives nationales (Archives des musées nationaux), housed at the Musée d’Orsay, Bibliothèque de la conservation, MS 421 (4,5), no. 4338, ‘L’homme à la barque’, 90 x 80 cm., acquired from Redon, valued at 150 francs.

(Probably) Vollard ‘1922 Inventory’, 1 January 1922-5 January 1938, Paris, Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Fonds WPI, no. 4007.

Alec Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue Raisonné de l’Oeuvre Peint et Dessiné, Vol. II: Mythes et Légendes, Paris, 1994, reproduced page 215, no. 1163.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: 1818 Text, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford, 2009, reproduced on book cover.

Dawn Ades, Olivier Berggruen, J. Patrice Marandel, and Nicholas Hall, Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art, New York, 2018.

Essay

L’Ange du Destin is an unparalleled experimental work by Symbolist artist Odilon Redon. Dated circa 1900, this seascape is exceptional for its haunting imagery painted at a time when Redon had begun to abandon the deathly and phantasmagoric subjects of his previous two decades. This work witnesses the artist at a turning point, no longer beholden to the tenebrous charcoals and lithographs of the past, but not yet given over to the powdery, dreamlike pastels and oil paintings that would follow. Presented in Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art, Redon’s L’Ange du Destin is a rare example in the artist’s oeuvre and unequaled on the market.

Though his early body of work is populated by all manner of creatures fantastic and frightening, as exemplified in his renowned series of lithographs from 1882, À Edgar Poe, Redon’s angel of destiny is a singular invention and especially rare for his later work. Prior to 1900, many of the artist’s noirs showed fragmented, colorless figures rendered in charcoal or printed from engravings, like his 1885 charcoal work l’Extase, also presented in Endless Enigma, and the Baltimore Museum of Art’s 1887 Spider lithograph. After the turn of the century, however, color emerged in the artist’s pastels and oil paintings, the earlier uncanny figures having vanished from his oeuvre.

At L’Ange du Destin’s most recent display at the Fondation Beyeler’s 2014 Odilon Redon exhibition, the work found itself situated among various boat scenes from the same period. While eerier than his other seascapes, L’Ange du Destin can be traced to this time period by the artist’s shift in pictorial setting. As presented in the Beyeler exhibition, Redon’s boat scenes reveal a number of nautical views without geographical or temporal reference and invite the viewer to seek out deeper meaning.

A pivotal work in the Redon’s oeuvre, l’Ange du Destin was painted with an experimental technique that predicts the artist’s impending transformation and foray into pastel. Through his layering of dry oil paint and heavy glazing, Redon achieves a hazy effect similar to the pastels for which he’s best known in his later years, but with an added translucency afforded by the oil. While this painting belongs more to the early 20th century than the 1994 Wildenstein catalogue suggests, this ominous oil on canvas stands in contrast to the atmospheric swirls of cobalt and buttery yellows of the Beyeler exhibition’s accompanying pastel works, like the Stedelijk Museum’s la Barque, circa 1900.

In l’Ange du Destin the horizon line separates light from dark, both visually and symbolically, as Redon’s shadowy subject contrasts against a gently billowing background. The sky’s turquoise blues and tufted clouds peek through the face and shoulder of the angel and suggest an otherworldliness not readily apparent in Redon’s other boat scenes. This technique carries downward below the horizon line, though in much darker tones of brown, green and black, and reveals the crouched position of the angel’s body at the bow of the boat. This visual confusion, a hallmark of Surrealist practice, lends further uncertainty to the setting of this simultaneously tranquil and disquieting scene.

In his 1994 catalogue raisonné, Wildenstein suggests that this wingless creature may be Charon, the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology. As a spirit in the service of King Haides, Charon was charged with overseeing the passage of souls from the land of the living across the rivers Styx and Acheron to the underworld. In exchange for his services, the seafaring spirit received payment in the form of coins placed in the mouths of the deceased. In Redon’s rendering, the infernal ferryman huddles at the tip of the vessel, awaiting his charges with a look of menacing impatience.

Whether or not Redon intended the figure as Charon, this enigmatic angel is emblematic of the Symbolist movement of which Redon was a key figure. Preferring portrayals of the subjective and the spiritual over the natural and the immediate, Symbolists populated their works with mysterious and fantastical subjects. Rooted in the French literary movement of the 1880s, these painters often referenced literary and mythological figures in their efforts to express universal themes of human experience like love, death, fear and desire.

In addition to the enduring relevance of this work’s subject matter, l’Ange du Destin’s exceptional quality is met with an equally illustrious provenance. The work is thought to have initially belonged to Ambroise Vollard, the historic 20th century dealer who altered the course of Modern art history by supporting emerging artists and establishing the careers of Cézanne, Picasso, and the Nabis. The painting eventually made its way from Vollard’s estate into private Parisian collections and later to the art markets of Turin, Italy and France, from which the present owner acquired the work circa 2012.

Reinforcing Redon’s literary and Symbolist connections is l’Ange du Destin’s appearance as the cover image of Oxford World Classic’s 2009 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Morgan Library & Museum will host the exhibition It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 concurrent with Endless Enigma: Eight Centuries of Fantastic Art.

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