Les Arbres (The Trees), 1890s
Odilon Redon, French, 1840–1916
Charcoal on paper
19 3/4 × 14 3/4in. (50.2 × 37.5cm) Frame (outer): 28 × 22 × 1 1/2 in. (71.1 × 55.9 × 3.8 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Harry C. Hanszen
Habits of Mind
- OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown
- DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
• Explore choices artists make in art materials and techniques.
• Experiment with different drawing media.
• Create an expressive mixed-media drawing of trees.
Connecting to the Work of Art
The towering trees in this masterful charcoal drawing by Redon may recall the artist’s childhood home, an overgrown estate in the southwestern French town of Peyrelebade. The drawing reveals the artist’s careful observation of nature, combined with an interest in romantic subject matter.
The artist places the viewer low in the foreground, looking up at the towering trees whose height is enhanced by the cropping of the composition. Redon skillfully uses the tones of the charcoal to suggest the textures of the trees and grasses. The rendering of the trees relies on the contrast between light and dark tones to define forms, and the pale buff color used for the highlights is actually the color of the paper itself. The light and shadows playing over the surfaces create a mysterious, somewhat eerie mood.
Redon is best known for his pastels of flowers, and for renderings in diverse media of fantastic, often mystical subjects. Redon received his early artistic training in the city of Bordeaux, then later in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1879 Redon published his first album of lithographs, and during the 1880s he occasionally exhibited his mysterious prints and drawings. He studied the use of line in works by artists such as Albrecht Dürer, as well as contrasts of light and dark in Rembrandt’s work. His interest in science led him to study Darwin, anatomy, and images seen through a microscope. For additional information about Albrecht Dürer, see Saint Eustace.
Redon worked exclusively in black and white from 1870 until the mid-1890s, creating hundreds of charcoal drawings, including The Trees. He called black “the most essential, the prince of colors.”¹ and often said that one could attain such an immense variety of tone in black and white that color was unnecessary. It was not until 1895 that Redon began to work in color.
1. George Heard Hamilton, Painting and Sculpture in Europe, 1880-1940 (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972), p. 81.
• Study the three works of art. How does van Gogh use color, brushstrokes, and texture to define the landscape and create a mood?
• How does Redon use shades of gray and different strokes to create forms? Redon believe the many tones of black and white made color unnecessary. Discuss.
• Describe Steichen’s depiction of the trees, and the tones and contrasts of light and dark in the photograph. Discuss whether Steichen was successful in his goal of emulating painting in his photographs.
• Go outside and look carefully at trees around the school. Make drawings to record observations of the lines, colors, textures, and shapes of the trees.
• Experiment with different drawing media, including ink, pencil, and wash, to learn the properties of each. Create a mixed-media drawing that depicts trees and expresses personal feelings about trees.
(see Art Lesson: Observing Trees- Mixed-Media Drawings)
• Display the drawings and compare and contrast the different choices made by students in the class.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.