La Mort: Mon ironie dépasse toutes les autres!
(Death: my irony surpasses all else!)
Plate 3 of 6
This extraordinary image prompted Stéphane Mallarmé, Symbolist poet and close friend of Redon since 1883, to write in a letter to the artist: 'I am stupefied by your Death ... I do not believe any artist has ever made, or poet dreamed, an image so absolute!'
The perplexing and disturbing nature of Redon's image is heightened by the spatial complexity used to create it. The coil of the serpentine tail appears almost flat until the body rises up on the right. The skull is then lit from another, unnatural, angle, and finally the hair and roses at once burst forth, and remain flat on the picture plane. Redon creates a disturbingly fragmented image of a figure emerging from the dense ink, with the skull of Death and the female body of Lust. Instead of a crown of roses, Redon shows them forming part of what must be the flowing hair of Lust along the top of the image. Moving beyond Flaubert's text, this image of the femme-fatale has been seen as a warning of the dangers of syphilis.
Proof before letters
This a trial proof of the final print with letters (above).
Proofs were made in order that the artist could check the outcome of their print. Any alterations could then be made on the stone, including adding or removing elements from the composition and adjusting the balance of light and dark, before the final prints were made. Artists were under no time constraints to make these adjustments, as the image could be kept perfectly sealed on the stone.