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Bresdin & Redon

"Bresdin and His Pupil Redon " at Fitch-Febvrel Gallery
Art in Review, The New York Times, Friday, June 21, 1985, by John Russell

At the time of year when galleries that specialize in contemporary art are mostly slowing down, a particular pleasure attaches to shows which, like this and the one reviewed below it, take 19th-century subjects of real substance and do something serious about them.

As a printmaker, Odilon Redon may never be a popular favorite. Work that is in black and white (and more black than white, in this case) starts with a strike against it in terms of mass appeal. Moreover, Redon's subject matter is often cryptic, depressive and obliquely grim.

As against that, his imagination led him into strange places. Once formed, the taste for his work is tenacious. There is no getting away from the memory of his amorphous figures, which come equipped to see and to bite but otherwise are often left for us to complete in our dreams. For this and other reasons, many among the visionary artists of the 20th century have owed much to Redon.

He knew what to read, too. Perhaps the most remarkable item in the Bresdin-Redon show at the Fitch-Febvrel Gallery is the album titled "To Gustave Flaubert", which comes with a handwritten dedication to Flaubert's fellow novelist Emile Zola. These are compelling, heavily shadowed and markedly spooky images, and they come with a line or two from Flaubert to prove that Redon had an eye for a telling phrase. Music mattered to Redon, too, and his little etching of Brunnhilde in the present show is the very epitome of French Wagnerism.

As is well known, Odilon Redon when young was captivated by the labyrinthine imagery of a senior printmaker called Rodolphe Bresdin. (One of his first etchings was inscribed "Redon, student of Bresdin.") The chance of seeing prints by Redon side by side with prints by Bresdin does not come every day, and in this show the two artists rank equally, both in quantity and in quality.

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