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
- SYNTHESIZE Analyze and synthesize relationships and information / compare and contrast / understand the micro and macro implications
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.
• Identify the sources of art materials.
• Research materials made from a renewable resource such as lumber.
• Research the lumber industry and learn its significance to the local, state, national, and world economy.
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.
• Analyze the three works of art and name the materials used to create each. Discuss the Redon drawing. Learn how paper and charcoal are made from trees.
• Discuss van Gogh’s painting and the natural materials used to make canvas and oil paints.
• Discuss other ways in which artists use natural materials to make works of art. Focus on the use of trees, then expand to other materials.
• Research the areas of the world where lumber is produced. What kinds of trees are used for lumber? What are the characteristics of those trees? What geographic and weather conditions are required for different kinds of trees?
• Have students research the lumber industry. What economic and other factors are necessary for a profitable lumber industry? Learn about the importance of transportation for this industry. What other industries depend upon the lumber industry?
• Research the lumber industry in your state or region. Investigate its place in the local, state, national, and international economy.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.