ODILON REDON AND THE FLOWER OF EVOLUTION by Amanda F. Rooke

 

 

The word “evolve” comes from the Latin root “evolutio, evolotus, evolvere and volvere” meaning to unroll or to unfold. The nineteenth century witnessed not only secular scientific evolution but was also interested in spiritual evolution. The concept of evolution was central to Redon’s beliefs and artistic practice. He drew his beliefs from multiple strands of science and religion including Theosophy, Hinduism and Buddhism. Redon believed that the Creator had implanted a piece of Himself inside every material thing which was created. In his own words there was “a divine germ in a little matter.” In Theosophical belief the purpose of life was to unroll the material covering and bring to birth the inner soul like the unrolling of plants’ leaves and buds. One person who became one with the spirit underlying nature was the Buddha. Redon was familiar with this belief through the writings of the Theosophist Edouard Schuré. Schuré thought that the Buddha brought to birth this inner soul through his meditations upon the cause of human suffering. Thus the Buddha showed humanity how to achieve the goal of evolution. According to Schuré and Redon, the goal was the birth of spirit out of matter. Schuré was Redon’s main Theosophical source. Schuré‘s studio was near to Redon’s and Schuré gave Redon a signed copy of Schuré‘s book, Les grands initiés. Schuré found parallels to the phenomena of the soul in the body, in the inner life in material nature, and in the abstraction underlying realism. He believed that a marriage of opposites would achieve unity and harmony. This is the context for the combinating of religion with science and of the perceptive (female) subconscious with the rational (male) superconsciousness as this paper will demonstrate. In Redon’s work the perceptive subconscious is represented by an eye within the head

which represents the intellect as in

his Winged Head Flying Over the Sea of before 1879 on the far side. ® Redon believed that men, like plants, grow out of the earth up to the Light of God. Artists and poets whilst they were still in the flesh were uniquely equipped to see this divine being. In Redon’s art, the artist surrounded by flowers (Redon’s “prodigies of light”) is enveloped by divine light. In C19th symbolic tradition, light was synonymous with intelligence. which was both the means and the divine destination. This is according to Christ’s statement “I am the way, the truth and the light.” (the path and the prize.) Redon was familiar with Christian tradition and also with Tao (meaning “path”) Buddhism where a similar belief is found. The goal of evolution was to develop the perceptive intelligence or seeing eye which looks beneath reality to the soul within. Redon represented the evolutionary journey in three stages. Within each stage he re-iterates the beginning and culmination of life’s journey by using the image of a figure surrounded by clouds of germ-flowers. He used modifications of the same image to represent each stage. Stage onewas the plant surrounded by clouds of single-celled germs. By accretion of cells simple beings become composite beings. This stage represents reality and the scientific aspect of Redon’s investigations. Stage two of this evolution is represented by a woman or child surrounded by clouds of flowers. By accretion of thoughts humanity evolves the perceptive intelligence. This stage represents the subconscious beneath consciousness and rationality. This is the psychological aspect of Redon’s investigations. Stage three was represented by a Buddha also surrounded by flowers. These flowers issue from heaven onto earth in recognition of his desire to help humanity. This stage represents the spirituality beneath reality and the spiritual aspect of Redon’s investigations. Redon’s oil painting, THE CRUCIBLE OF CREATION, 1894. L/ seems to summarize Redon’s evolutionary theory. A child sees in the fishbowl, as if in the mirror, a face looking back at him from the beginnings of life in the primordial oceans. The alchemical reference of the title suggests that in life’s crucible the pure metal of the soul will be extracted from the base metal of materiality. Redon would have been aware of the spiritual interpretation of alchemy in popular C19th literature such as Balzac’s La recherche de l’absolu. (The Search for the Absolute) of 1834.

To Redon, life was a journey from the germ-spark of life in a primitive protoplasm to life’s triumphant final flowering in a godlike being, an evolution from the physicality of nature to the spirituality of the Creator. He described this as the flowering of immortality from the heart of beauty and of the “divine germ within matter.” Redon’s interest in using scientific realism to represent his creatures of the imagination may have stemmed from his association with the botanist Armand Clavaud. Eisenmann believes that Redon worked as a botanical illustrator for Clavaud, and as his assistant received training in preparing herbarium specimens, in microscopy, and in botanical drawing. As well, he was exposed to scientific theory. This training was typical of that of Nicolas Robert, Ferdinand Bauer and other botanical illustrators. One of Redon’s contempories, Francis Jammes, compared Redon’s lithographs to the sheets on which botanical specimens were fixed. Jammes said that Louis Pasteur understood what a great naturalist and microscopist Redon was. Two botanical drawings by Redon show his skill as a botanical copyist, as in his L/ GERANIUM (near) R/ AND STRELIZIA (far) both of c. 1900. Many of Redon’s flower paintings, early and late, reflect this exactitude as in Flower Piece of 1885 on the near side and Vase of Anemones of 1912-14. However, many flower studies are also dreamlike, as in Redon’s Dream Shadows (L), c. 1905 and , Day of c. 1910-11. ® Claude-Roger Marx wrote in 1918 that these flowers were seemingly “inhabited by a soul.” In what Redon called “the confluence of two river banks, that of representation and that of memory,” they joined botanical exactitude with the imagination. Burhan notes that Redon’s subjective, Symbolist attitude to science led him to synthesise science with religion. According to this view the outer world is the location for symbols known through sensory experience. These symbols are crystalisations of the eternal, Unknowable divine force. This force is synonymous with intelligence and art. This is the law of correspondences voiced by Jacob Boehme and Emmanual Swedenborg and taken up again in the nineteenth century by Baudelaire and others. Redon held to the concept of spiritual evolution shared by Lamarck, Hippolyte Taine, Herbert Spenser, and Henri Bergson. This concept of spiritual evolution is expressed in Redon’s 1883 lithographs series, Les Origines. Redon’sLes Origines represent stage one of his evolutionary journey, the opening of the eye which in the plant is its receptivity to light.

In his “There Was Perhaps A First Vision Attempted In A Flower.”EYE FLOWER, L. a plant with a human eye is surrounded by clouds of germ-flowers. This print is the second of Redon’s 1883 Origines series of lithographs. This plant represents the beginning of the evolutionary journey. The plant represents the potentiality for intelligence in life’s lowest forms, here partly realised in the light-seeking plant. The lithograph also represents the nineteenth century scientific theory of “conglomerate entities” – that is, that complex creatures are an agglomeration of uni-celled entities, the large and the small working together symbiotically. Redon was clearly aware of the nineteenth century theories of cell biology as is demonstrated below. Creatonist evolutionists like Clavaud believed in the primordial soup theory. One of the origins of this theory may be the Classical and Medieval concept of “spontaneous creation”of mineral crystals and vegetal life. According to this theory, mineral crystals and plants grew from seeds sleeping in parent-matter. Also according to this theory, lesser animals such as coral polyps could regrow amputated extremities in the way that plants are propagated from cuttings. It was only in the nineteenth century that Louis Pasteur disproved the theory of spontaneous creation by discovering that airborn microbes caused disease. Charles Darwin also disputed the theory of spontaneous creation by demonstrating that change, occurring through adaptation to environmental influences, to produced rudimentary organs which are maintained or aborted. Change occurred at the larval stage, larvae being active embryos. New species arose through mutability or modification followed by a process of natural selection. Most evolutionists following Lamarck and De Vries graded life-forms on the ladder of creation by the amount of “life” that was in them from the least to the most structurally-complex. Clavaud rejected part of Darwin’s view but accepted the view that natural selection occurs through struggle. (SHOW BLANK SLIDES, L AND R, turn on overhead.)OVERHEAD 1: TREE – This is a modern diagram from Aldous Huxley’s Ascent of Man (though from 1951) The diagram encapsulates the C19th concept of variants branching off a common parent stock to describe the law of variation. This was a concept used by Cuvier, Goebel, Eugène Fournier, and of course by Darwin. Darwin stated that all organisms “are united by complex, radiating, and circuitous lines of affinities into one grand system”, one group of organisms being subordinate to another throughout all time.” The image probably originated from Goethe’s concept of the “ancestral plant,” with many species sprouting from a single parent stem. (A. Arber) This image originated from observing the Chaperops Humilis palm which produced several kinds of shoots and leaves upon one parent stem. This plant is an excellent example of mutability. (TURN OFF OVERHEAD PROJECTOR)

Cuvier wrote that a plant is actually a “collection of individuals or satellites of the parent stock. Clavaud and others thought that like coral polyps, the most primitive animals, algae, the most primitive seaweeds consisted of conglomerations. These conglomerations consist of “infusoria” which cluster into “colonies” around food and light sources as they did in the primordial soup, emitting minute replicas of themselves called “oscillaries”, whichoscillate between the animal and vegetal kingdoms. Oscillaries like plants contained latent animal characteristics. Cellular plants were a functioning organism in their own right, exhibiting even more life-force than do some more complex animals, such as sea-anemones. Creationist evolutionists like Hugo De Vries wrote that parent species were created at the Beginning but these species changed because of changing circumstances. The original species seek to return to their origins so that they can be true to their original type. Clavaud particularly studied these “infinitely small,” creatures on the border between vegetal and animal, where life, the “germ” or lifespark, flowered under the effects of light. By responding to the light they demonstrated the rudiments of the sense of sight which in humans was the instrument for seeing the light of God. As the Origines series demonstrates, Redon thought that plants’ receptivity to light corresponded to vision in humans. BESIDE EYE-FLOWER (L) (SLIDE OF ALL ORIGINES PLATES (R) 1883. The slide on the far side is Redon’s Origines series of 1883. In humans the eye is the artist’s sense organ of vision that together with his inner eye, transforms sensations into inner poetic visions. The eight plates in the Origines series reveal the evolution of the eye with backgrounds either light or clouded like the gloom worlds in Plato’s Republic. (GO BACK TO THE MAN SLIDE, 1883)(L) Finally man (the artist) emerges, “questing the earth from which he emerged” and “moving towards a dim, clouded light.” The nineteenth century poet, Alphonse de Lamartine, likened Man to an angel with weak vision seeking to return to heaven. This statement seems appropriate to Redon’s image. Redon used the image of primitive men with clouds above their head in R/THE ETERNAL SILENCE OF THESE INFINITE SPACES FRIGHTENS ME, C. 1878 and THE GIANTR/C.1867. These drawings show clouds with potential for revealing “fantastic and marvellous visions” above a man’s head like a thought-bubble. Redon links artistic intelligence and evolution with the flower. He associates the evolution of these primitive forms with developing intelligence and symbolised them by flowers. He described the natives of Tiera del Fuego, (MAN, 1883) then considered the most primitive humans on earth, as “emerging from the earth like a flower of India, in full bloom.” Redon sought to prove that his family traced to Basque Spain which his teacher Rudolf Bresdin thought was the cradle of the first polyps with intelligence, and also of human culture. Redon links their newly emerged perceptive intelligence with the image of the flower and its “eye.” (SHOW SLUG, L,) In Les Origines the eye opens when life emerges from the ooze in Plate One entitled “When life awoke in the depths of obscure matter.” The eye is hugely apparent in the plant in Plate 2.(SHOW EYE FLOWER, L,) (SHOW CYCLOPS, L,) Exactly the same eye is grafted onto the more evolved composite entity, the polyp, in Plate 3 entitled “The difformed polyp floated on shore, a sort of smiling, hideous cyclops.” The eye flower image may derive from Grandville’s “The Reed” in Les fleurs animées, and Pascal’s concept of man as a frail but “thinking reed,” OR from (11/ HUMAN XIPPODROME. R/) a lithograph of Siamese twins branching at the thorax into their two faces, an example of mutation which fitted this theory of evolution. (BACK TO EYE FLOWER, L,)

Redon wrote that by reading the eye feeds the intellect, but the true faculty of sight is “to grasp the relationships between things.” A plant’s sensibility to light “corresponds a little towards that of the human eye to light.” Thus unicelled potential intelligences surround a partly evolved visionary-eye. Germs are considered in the original sense of the word, as sparks of potential life, as in “wheat germ” rather than their modern sense as

disease-bacteria. Redon depicted germs as monads or seeds with human faces in Seeds Everywhere, 1879. (far side) Microscope images of germs could be viewed at travelling exhibitions and they were described as “disturbing, ferocious, half-vegetal and half-animal.” Germs were imaginatively illustrated by others as newts and worms. Redon’s representations may originate in Flaubert’s description of “Globular bodies as large as pin’s heads, and garnished all round with eye-lashes,” in his symbolist novel, The Temptation of St. Anthony. Redon also depicted intellect soaring to God as an eye shaped rising hot air balloon. 14/ BALLOON, …….. R/The eye could therefore see the panorama and the extreme close view. The information which it provided the artist augmented the inner perceptive mind which Redon represented by a woman or child. (SHOW OPHELIA (1) (L) As noted above, Redon’s flowers combine botanical exactitude with the imagination.

Stage two of Redon’s evolution of the inner eye is shown in his portraits of women surrounded by flowers. These portraits represent the psychological aspect of the evolution of the artist’s perceptive intelligence.

Redon thought that early man had the perfected intuitive intelligence of the subconscious and spoke through the “law of correspondences.”However, Francis Jammes’article “The Quarrel of the Rose,” of 1906 said that Redon was helplessly at the whim of the subconscious. Redon replied that he was not helplessly at the whim the subconscious, even though this was the source of his inspiration. Redon would find this accusation particularly objectionable as he suffered from mild epilepsy, in the C19th a kind of mania and a social disgrace to his family.

Redon’s mad Ophelia (L) does appear to illustrate the dangers of complete immersion in subjectivity. Looking beneath the surface of things, the indeterminate subconscious speaks ambiguously in dreams with pictures rather than words. The subconscious is symbolised by water.

Ophelia Among The Flowers, 1905 (L) & Ophelia 1895, (R) derive from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ophelia made a fantastic garland of crow flowers, nettles, daisies and lustful long purples which cold maids call dead men’s fingers. She tried to hang the garland on a weeping willow branch by the brook like a “rosencranz” on a maiden’s tomb. However, thinking she was a watersprite, she drowned. The nettles signify both her garments or “weeds” and the “the overgrown garden” of death and disorder signified in another of Shakespeare’s plays by mad King Lear’s weedy garland. The long purples have phallic connotations but also resemble the mottled flesh of drowned or poisoned victims. Flowers signify paradise, while weeds signify Adam’s expulsion from Eden. Redon looks at the cultural model and he uses the iconography of flowers in literature to explain the theory of unconscious intelligence. Redon almost certainly saw 19/ L/ MILLAIS’ OPHELIA (1851-2) AND R/ DELACROIX’S OPHELIA (1853). (BACK TO OPHELIA,) (L) Unlike these artists, Redon depicted only her head, the flowery garland like seed thoughts clustering around her head, the intuitive intellect and the water of poetic revery, as in his Orpheus (1903)(L) of a murdered poet’s head floating down a river, in turn deriving from Gustave Moreau’s APPARITION (1826-98) (R) of John the Baptist’s head before the muderous Salomé.

The English thought flower language originated from Ophelia’s speech in Hamlet; about Rosemary for remembrance and Pansies (Pensées) for thoughts. Shakespeare called it “a document in madness, thoughts (i.e. the pansies) and remembrance (i.e. the rosemary), combined.” Rosemary signified both life and death, weddings and funerals and was a calmative, madness-curing drug.

Hippolyte Taine in Philosophie de l’art (Philosophy of Art), wrote that as all things were permeated with divinity the ancient Greek process of anthropomorphising natural forces as gods was paralleled in their framing of ideas into words. This is tied to the doctrine of correspondences voiced by George Berkeley, Eliphias Levy, Delacroix, and Baudelaire, of nature as a dictionary or forest of symbols. As in REDON’S PORTRAIT OF GAUGUIN, 1904) Gauguin thought that artists were particularly suited to read this dictionary, thus becoming divine visionaries. Thus portraits with floral wallpaper behind the sitter are like a dialogue between the inner and outer aspects of the great unity, through the image of flower thoughts clustering around the sitter. Redon’s PROFILE IN LIGHT, 1886 L/(near) WOMAN CLOTHED IN THE SUN, 1899 R/,(far) have light but no flowers behind them – The appearance of flowers coincided with Redon’s “marrying of colour” in c. 1900. His Portrait of Madame Arthur Fontaine, 1901, shows flowers hovering behind the sitter’s head, (indicate…) and further flowers appearing beneath the needle onto her embroidery as though her thoughts are materialising onto the canvas.(indicate…) Two preparatory drawings for Redon’s Yeux Clos (Closed Eyes) seem also to depict heads surrounded by thoughts, as in his Bust of a Man with Closed Eyes, Surrounded by Flowers, (near) and Nude figure lying beneath flowers (far) both of c. 1899. The iconography is probably drawn from Edouard Schuré‘s Les Grands Initiés (The Great Initiates) and from Classical myth. The first sleeper’s head is surrounded by a semi circle of narcotic poppies and narcissi, like a dream or a thought-bubble. Drawing 2 shows their juices precipitating upon the sleeper below them. To Shuré poppies and narcissi were attributes of Persephone, queen of the underworld and opponent of his hero, Orpheus. When Persephone was married to Dionysius in his aspect as the god of poetic delirium, narcissi symbolised deliverance from death. Their narcotic perfume evokes the subjective poetic revery in which the sitter experiences the inner harmony within nature. Redon’s Yeux Clos Heaven or In Heaven of 1889 (near) coincided with Redon’s portrait of his son, Ari, (far) behind whom the scintillating white and yellow “flowers of light” resemble the fireworks heralding the new century in which Arï would take part. Redon put flowers behind children, woman, and artistic men but never art dealers. Redon’s PORTRAIT OF VIOLETTA HEYMAN, 1909-10 (L) This reflects the description of young girls by Michelet, Redon and De Pressence (in his Les origines, le problème de la conaissance) as “the triumph of divine art over “oppressive matter.” This triumph is seen in “the beauty of the human form (which) radiates this sacred flame, called the soul” which glows through the body like light through an alabaster vase.” They are like the Venus born of the sea in Redon’s mother’s dream preceding the birth of the artist from unintelligent nature, art being the flower cultivated in the artist’s garden. Gauguin said this dream enveloped the artist with an eternal, harmonious celestial tissue of rays and perfumes. This is a remodelling of the clouds of flower thoughts in Les Origines.

The Venus imagery connects with statements by Redon and Emile Bernard that the artist like Primevera spreads the seeds of the great life which palpitated in nature like the flowers of the spirit. Redon read Hippolyte Taine’s De l’Intelligence (On Intelligence) which studied the development of the nervous system and brain, from zoophytes and polyps to man. Taine said that we accrete our sense of self through a string of events recorded in the brain from sensory imput from outside. (GO TO BLANKS, L. AND R.)

(OVERHEAD 2): In this regard I show you a modern diagram depicting transmitters and receivers of “brain-waves” or synapses.

Taine said that brain cells resembled the abovementioned uni-celled creatures, as they were full of vitality and had a life of their own which served the higher creature of which they were part. They “lit up” in an interior movement of their molecules in a series of cliché’s or dances, making mass formations and coming into and out of allignment with one another in millisecond impulses. They have five groupings or families relating to the five groups of sensations received from the five external sense apparatii. The cells modify into fibres (INDICATE THEM) to conduct the “clichés”, conducting currents of thought itself, and interiorising signs and symbols of the outside world. (TURN OFF OVERHEAD PROJECTOR.)

The portraits seem to show these thoughts entering the sitters’ nimbus or aura from the realms of non-physical ideation. An instructive word can be described as a message-bearer or angel such as Gabriel to Mary. Redon’s women appear to represent the inspiring muse or guardian angel which visited him. She led him on the paths of imagination, bringing to birth the artist within him. He experienced a kind of mystical marriage with this Muse.

Some female portraits are framed by a stained-glass window. In these portraits, the window is like a doorway for the flower thoughts, like the arches and windows of St. Seurin where Redon and a young girl had first communion. Ari had a similar friend and Redon praised the effect of her convent education on her.

These qualities appear in Redon’s Simone Fayet in Holy Communion 1908 (right) Here a bride of Christ appears beside Chartres’s Rose window of the Queen of Heaven and a stained glass window with quatrefoil designs containing biblical scenes with figures in didactic poses. The window seems to shed the light of the teachers from the holy place, onto this new member of the Church, through the flower-like forms which recall the flowers surrounding other female portraits. The windows shine the light on the sitter. In later works, the flowers in the windows replace the holy teachers.

The window image was first used in 1894 and in Day from the Dreams series 1891 to which Redon added flower-face clouds. In The Window c. 1904,(L) the figures and flowers once bound by the traceries move in a separate space behind the window-frames and the ambiguity of the blue concrete-rendered wall suggests a window floating in cloudy blue skies. These clouds of fruits and flowers pour as if from a giant plant, in Redon’s THE WINDOW 1908 (right) TED GOTT ONE.) These examples of women receptive to divine inspiration could represent the intuitive soul open to thoughts of the divine. These images suggest a muse or guardian angel or messenger between earth and heaven. Stage three of Redon’s evolutionary plan is represented by the Buddha surrounded by flower-clouds. This represents the culmination of the journey in the efflorescence of the spirit, symbolised by a blue lotus in Redon’s THE BUDDHA IN HIS YOUTH, c. 1906. (L)

Redon perfected this symbolism of flower forms in the Buddha figure, who is a man who has “qualified” to enter the divine realms by himself. He has the same attribute of flower-clouds as the women, but these have a new and rarefied meaning. The Buddha images show the influence of Eastern tales of flowers falling from heaven when Buddhas confabulate. This iconography was widely known in the C19th. It is found in C19th translations of the MahabharataVishnu PuranaRamayana, Bhagavad gita, and also in J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, (1890), Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony, (1889) Paul Carus’s L’evangile de Buddha (1895), S. Hartman’s Buddha, a Drama in Twelve Scenes, (1897), Eduard Schuré‘s “Le Bouddha et sa légende” from the Revue des deux mondes (1886) and his Les Grandes Initiés (1896). All of these sources Redon read. Redon used Christ and Buddha figures to epitomise the triumphant emergence of his own artistic persona. Buddha was purified of his baser nature and became at one with the purest aspect of Nature, the Divine, and thereby received enlightenment. The influence of the higher world flooded both nature and enquirer with divine light which Redon symbolised by flowers which he called “divine creatures of light.” Since the Buddha was of Hindu birth the iconography of his theology is based in Hindu practice where flowers are thrown in the streets by well wishers, or the flowers precipitate from the heavens in greeting of a sage or hero. These floral precipitations occurred particularly at the Buddha’s birth and at his enlightenment. Redon made other references to Eastern religion in his Golden Cell, 1892, depicting the egg or matrix from which the creators Purusha and Brahma emerged (in a legendary form of the big bang/expanding universe theory). This egg is more clearly depicted in Redon’s St. John1892 and in hisEvocation of 1905. The single cell is therefore now a model for the creation of a whole universe. The Buddha in his Youth of 1906 has floral imagery in the clouds of flowers around the figure. The tree beneath which he sits is a type resembling a prunus and repeatedly used by Redon but here signifies the bodhi or pipal/ficus religiosa sacred to Buddha’s enlightenment. The fig’s tiny seed symbolised infinity and the doctrine of spirit sleeping in matter, because it seemed to contain nothing yet from it grew the giant tree. In Redon’s depictions of the walking Buddhas the tree seems to bloom at his approach and flowers spring from the earth as in Buddha Walking Among Flowers, and The Meditations of the Buddha 1905. (far side) The tree is bare but a cloud of egg like golden flowers reminiscent of The Golden Cell the world-egg, hovers over both the figure and the tree. By his attributes of pilgrim’s staff and teaching gesture, he seems to be in the ministry stage of his life. Redon adapted this figure from earlier representations in his series, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1896) where the Buddha is a “crazed magus” who cried “intelligence was mine…I became the Buddha.” Flaubert’s negative image gave way to one where the attainment of this enlightenment is suggested by the blooming of nature. The flower clouds may refer to the Buddha’s Lotus Sutra, in which the “stage of the Law-cloud” was the tenth and highest of the ten stages of the compassionate bodhisattwa way. The Buddha was the “flower of the human tree, only opening once in myriads of years but once opened fills the world with the perfume of his wisdom and the honey of his love; from the royal root shall grow a celestial lotus.” During the meditation before enlightenment, a woman mistaking him for the forest god brought him offerings of food. Because she was kind, Buddha said her “heart” was the calix of the lotus which would eventually fill with dewdrops (in reference to the mantram Om mani padme hum: The life of all {is a dewdrop at the heart of} of the lotus.) Upon the Buddha’s enlightenment all illusion disappeared in a mist and the good spirits rejoicing in his victorious enlightenment sent a rain of flowers upon his forehead to revive him from the great sadness he felt at the human condition.

All of the above floral iconography seems to have been combined into one image whereby the clouds of flowers and the blue lotus, symbolise his completed purification and attainment of the knowledge of the one life in all things. It also alludes to his teaching that this can be attained by overcoming desire and living a selflesslife. This is also symbolised by the blue lotus beside him.

The PORTRAIT OF MME DOMENCY/R/ Redon, 1902 depicts a woman beside a deep blue pool with blue and white lotus flowers, both opened and in seed whereas the fully transformed blue bloom is the attribute of the Buddha in Buddha in his youth, and of Christ or Buddha in BUDDHA, 1906, who also has a blue lotus. The blue lotus is the attribute of compassionate personages.This iconography may derive from an image similar to the Buddha in his Youth, in the cover design by Redon’s friend and colleague, CLAUDE EMILE SCHUFFENECKER, FOR THE JOURNAL LE LOTUS BLEU, 1887 – (right) Here the sage seems to rise from the sea with which his draperies meld, like the lotus rising above the waters to the rising sun. It is like a triumphant re-enactment of the Ophelia tragedy, or of the Venus-like birth from the waters of chaos, as in Redon’s BIRTH OF VENUS.c. 1906(RIGHT) Then go back to Journal and then to Mme. Domency.

An article in the Lotus Bleu journal, “La Legende du Lotus Bleu”explained that a king’s virtuous son was saved while his selfish son was punished by having to belong to the egotistical Western race. This race could only be redeemed by changing their ways and thus turning from white lotuses into blue lotuses. Indra the sky-god had enveloped the group in a blue cloud, tinting blue the white lotuses upon the lake of Laksmi or Venus who was born from the churnings of the ocean of milk, standing upon a white lotus. The Buddha is often depicted enthroned on such a fully opened flower like that which bloomed at the Creation, signifying he is now recreated and born of the spirit.

Gubernatis’s La mythologie des plantes (1878-82) notes that flowers in Hindu iconography symbolise immortality. Gubernatis also connects the bodhi tree with the Christian tree of knowledge, as both trees have their counterparts in heaven. Bodhi is the prefix linking men entering Buddhi the highest of man’s seven principles or states of being, and of the tree beneath which they meditated to attain this state which is synonymous with compassion.

The flowers around The Buddha in his youth resemble the germ-lives in Les Origines and the thought flowers in the female portraits, and symbolise

the unity of earth and heaven. Redon’s principal source for this iconography

of floral precipitations from the sky was probably Shuré. Schuréwrote of the

Vedas that the dried herbs of the earth thrown on the altar shed sparks of light

symbolising the fructifying of the earth’s womb by divinity. He said that the sparks “signify the showers of souls or of spiritual monads which come to fertilise terrestrial seeds. They are the organising principles without which matter would be only an inactive and diffused mass.” They are the “Male fire which passes through everything”, whose creative thought the ephemeral worlds made manifest. One should try to reach this state again “by making oneself as perfect as possible, by mastering things through active rather than passive intelligence.

Flowers thus become symbols of the divine penetrating the physical through monadic seed-sparks of divine fire. In this way, the artistic soul of which the Buddha was the apogee, is receiving nourishment from its divine source. Because the Buddha was the apogee of the evolution of the artist, flowers thence become symbols of Redon’s own “artistic enlightenment.” André Salmon wrote that this was the process of bringing to birth the God within or as Redon said in summarising his philosophy of floral iconography, “Immortality is nothing other than the flowering of the rare bloom whose seed is at the heart of all beauty; it is…the blossoming of a divine germ contained in a little matter.” This seed is fanned into life by developing this beauty by the exercise of the inner eye through the practise of art.

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