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

  • UNDERSTAND BIAS Understand assumption and various points of view / empathy

Computing Size and Age

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.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Calculate the height of a perpendicular element by using proportion.

•  Explain how the age of trees is determined.

•  Graph materials to illustrate collected data.

GRADE LEVEL

6

SUBJECT AREA

Math

HABITS OF MIND

Understand Bias

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.

Observations

•  Study the three works of art and compare and contrast the size of the trees.

•  What is each artist’s point of view in relation to the trees he is depicting? How does this vantage point affect the viewer’s perception of the size of the trees? How does the point of view contribute to the mood of each work?

Assessment

•  Learn the formula for estimating the height of trees. While outside observing trees for the science lesson, estimate the heights of the trees and measure their circumferences.

•  Make graphs of trees in the area by height and circumference.

•  Research how the age of trees is computed. Look in the area for tree stumps, or find pictures and count the number of rings to compute the age.

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:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.