Redon and the Lithographic Revival
Redon worked solely in black and white for many years, until the 1890s when he made the move to pastels and oils. Having begun to produce etchings under the tutelage of Rodolphe Bresdin in the 1860s, he moved quickly onto charcoal, and then lithography. His career was shaped by his successive exploration of these various media. Redon initially saw lithography simply as a means of multiplying his drawings. Lithography's status among artists had recently suffered due to its associations with commercial applications. The recent development of the photomechanical technique of gillotage, however, gave the traditional technique a new appeal to artists. Once he started working with the medium, Redon was intrigued by the variety of effects he could achieve, and he became a prominent figure in the revival of the Fine Art print. A major aspect of the revival of lithography as an artistic medium was the concept of the original print. This was the idea that artists should do all their own work, rather than just pass it to the printers for reproduction. This ensured the credibility of the final prints and made them desirable works of art for buyers. Redon did, indeed, do much of the work on his own, preparing, working and re-working the image until it was ready. He left only the final stage of printing to the professional lithographers. This led to the printers being increasingly low profile and, as can be seen by the prints in the exhibition, most plates do not bear the name of the printer in the margin, as commonly seen in French lithographs. Instead, Redon signed his work, as a final reminder of the hand of the artist.
Not only did Redon revive lithography, but he used it in increasingly experimental and innovative ways, creating works that responded to the nature of the medium, and images whose meaning was inextricably linked to subtle stylistic and technical choices made by the artist. What was particular to Redon's lithographs was his deeply emotional and spiritual reaction to the interplay of light and dark, which became the focus of the expressive power of his prints. He used the strong juxtaposition of light and dark to create horrific beings, whilst retaining mystery in the subtle ambiguity of the shadows. Redon became obsessed with the qualities of the black ink. He called it 'the agent of the spirit more than the splendid colour of ... the prism' and started to produce blacks with a unique, deep and mysterious luminosity.