This presentation follows up on the request of a collector who entrusted us with this rather curious series of Redon's prints:
he was seeking to elucidate the nature of these prints, often confused with lithographs in the literature, and on which to our knowledge little has been published.


The Flowers of Evil ~

Odilon Redon, interpretations for Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs Du Mal

(etchings in the Evely process, 1890, on medium-weight beige wove paper, the complete set of nine)

In 1857, Charles Baudelaire first published his masterpiece of poetry that, in spite of its being immediately condemned as morally offensive, foreshadowed the symbolists and was to serve as a reference in the second half of the 19th century for several generations of artists, inspired by its dark sensuality and melancholy reverie.

By the late 1880s, Redon had acquired something of a reputation in Belgian symbolist circles, notably among the members of the Groupe des XX, including Edmond Deman, a bibliophile and publisher known for his illustrated editions of poetry (Mallarmé, Verlaine). In addition to distributing Redon's prints in Brussels, Deman had further published several books illustrated by Redon (e.g., the works of Emile Verhaeren), as well as an album of Redon's lithographs (Tentation de Saint-Antoine, Première Série, 1888).

In 1889, it seems that Redon suggested the idea of the Fleurs du Mal album to Deman, and sold him the set of 9 small drawings, of what he called "interpretations" rather than illustrations, a word he found defective. These drawings made up a somewhat disparate collection, in terms of subject, style, technique, dimension, and even chronology, including several older works from the 1870s.

detail of Plate II (2 : 1)

 This series of drawings* was first exhibited at the Salon des XX in February 1890, and then "reproduced" full size for the edition by the Evely process. They were to be republished some years later by Henri Floury (Paris, 1923). It appears that the present set, unnumbered, and without the typographic text below the plates, is from this edition.

Technically speaking, these prints are quite distinct from lithographs, with which they have often been confused, ostensibly ever since Jules Destrée included this album in his catalogue** on Redon's lithographs, even though he does indeed specify that they were printed by Evely, using the Evely process on copper plate (which he notes as "inferior" to lithographic printing), and without retouching by the artist.

Léon Evely was a renowned late-19th-century Belgian printer, well known for experimenting with refined variations in inking, exotic and antique papers, and, evidently, novel graphic processes. He was James Ensor's first printer, and worked regularly with Félicien Rops*** on perfecting heliogravure techniques, the plate being first photomechanically etched and then retouched with drypoint, aquatint, or roulette.

Given the technical diversity of Redon's Fleurs du Mal drawings, it is interesting to compare the treatment of the sharp lines in the pen drawings with the subtle shadings in the charcoal drawings.

Examining the impressions, the dark areas are uniformly flat, lacking the relief of an etched line while rendering half tones rather well; the confusion with lithography is here somewhat understandable, although the presence of a clear-cut platemark should quickly dispel it.

All the plates effectively show roulette rework, and sometimes retouching with a point. Hardly visible on some of the charcoal drawings (see Pl. I, above), it generally served to reinforce the dark tones, yet also occurs on some of the lighter shading (see Pl. IX, Cul-de-lampe, at right).


Incidentally it is curious to note that according to Destrée, the Deman edition of Les Fleurs du Mal was then being sold at equivalent prices to the lithograph albums (i.e., 40 francs, as opposed to 55 francs for the 1888 album of ten lithographs, La Tentation de Saint Antoine), which would seem to indicate that the current distinction between "original" prints and "fine" reproductions was then not quite that clear-cut.



* See Wildenstein 794, 941, 1103, and 1190 for those now known.

** L'Oeuvre Lithographique de Odilon Redon, Brussels, 1891.

*** Rouir, Félicien Rops: les Techniques de la Gravure, Brussels, 1991

detail of Plate IX (4 : 1)



Les Fleurs du Mal

I. Couverture-Frontispice

(Mellerio 198)


Plate: 257 x 166 mm
Subject: 192 x 145 mm
Sheet: 323 x 251 mm

N.B. The images shown here have all been reproduced as cropped approximately to the platemark, and have been reduced 50%

Les Fleurs du Mal

II. Je t'adore à l'égal de la voûte nocturne, ô vase de tristesse, ô grande taciturne!

(Mellerio 199)


Plate: 277 x 210 mm
Subject: 251 x 182 mm
Sheet: 325 x 251 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

III. Parfois on trouve un vieux flacon qui se souvient, d'où jaillit toute vive une âme qui revient

(Mellerio 200)


Plate: 274 x 198 mm
Subject: 245 x 168 mm
Sheet: 324 x 253 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

IV. Si par une nuit lourde et sombre, un bon chrétien, par charité, derrière quelque vieux décombre, enterre votre corps vanté

(Mellerio 201)


Plate: 267 x 213 mm
Subject: 232 x 186 mm
Sheet: 323 x 250 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

V. Volupté, fantôme élastique!

(Mellerio 202)


Plate: 219 x 154 mm
Subject: 180 x 117 mm
Sheet: 324 x 251 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

VI. Sur le fond de mes nuits, Dieu, de son doigt savant, dessine un cauchemar multiforme et sans trêve

(Mellerio 203)


Plate: 240 x 214 mm
Subject: 214 x 187 mm
Sheet: 324 x 252 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

VII. Sans cesse à mes côtés s'agite le démon

(Mellerio 204)


Plate: 256 x 209 mm
Subject: 215 x 182 mm
Sheet: 324 x 252 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

VIII. Gloire et louange à toi, Satan, dans les hauteurs du ciel où tu régnas, et dans les profondeurs de l'enfer, où vaincu, tu rêves en silence!

(Mellerio 205)


Plate: 208 x 212 mm
Subject: 173 x 182 mm
Sheet: 324 x 250 mm

Les Fleurs du Mal

IX. Cul-de-lampe

(Mellerio 206)


Plate: 210 x 147 mm
Subject: 118 x 90 mm
Sheet: 323 x 251 mm