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Appealing to the senses

Redon is a painter, pastelist, draughtsman and lithographer, but he also learns to play violin and piano and acquires a love of literature at an early age. He has close friendships with writers and composers, is himself active as a writer and gives music recitals. For him, music, literary themes and visual art are inextricably linked. In his own time, he was already highly praised for his entirely unique way of combining these different expressive powers in his work. More than anyone, Redon thus embodies the popular late nineteenth-century concept of synaesthesia: the idea that a more intense experience can be created by appealing to several senses simultaneously.

Themes in the exhibition

Redon finds his inspiration in literary and musical sources, from classical antiquity to Richard Wagner. The exhibition demonstrates this based on a series of specific themes, such as the winged horse (Pegasus) or his depiction of women, who appear as both a symbol of beauty (Béatrice) and in the shape of the femme fatale (Salomé). Redon uses these themes time and again, gives them changing forms and always provides them with new meanings and associations.

His admiration for Wagner is apparent in his depictions of Brünnhilde and Parsifal, among other things. But the link with music is usually not so literal and he is more interested in evoking a mood. His contemporaries often describe his work in terms of a musical experience, while he refers to himself as a ‘peintre symphonique’.

‘My drawings inspire and do not provide definitions. They do not determine anything. Just like music they place us within an ambiguous world of the indeterminate.’ (A –soi-même, 1961)

Odilon Redon, Hommage à Goya, 1885

Word and image

Redon’s role as a writer and illustrator are explored in the exhibition in a number of lithographic series that he made for texts by writers he admired, such as Gustave Flaubert, Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Baudelaire. He also combines lithographs with his own texts, creating visual and textual poetry, as in Hommage à Goya (Homage to Goya). Here, word and image form a whole.

Special loan

The immediate cause for the exhibition is a generous loan from a private collection. In combination with the Kröller-Müller Museum’s own extensive Redon collection and a small number of loans from other collections, La littérature et la musique offers an unprecedented view of the breadth and variety of themes in Odilon Redon’s body of work.


The exhibition is accompanied by a publication of the same name, with contributions from an international group of leading authors in the field of symbolism and Redon’s work. Guest curator Cornelia Homburg is responsible for the compilation of the book. The book is available in Dutch and English and is published by NAI 010 publishers. More information

The exhibition will also travel to Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, where it is showing from 11 October 2018 to 20 January 2019.

Benefactor:BegunstigersImages: Odilon Redon, La liseuse, 1895-1900, private collection, Hommage à Goya (album with 6 lithographs), 1885, Tête de martyr, 1877 / header: detail Pégase, 1895-1900, private collection