© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

This radiant pastel is a nuanced example of Redon’s use of the velvety quality of the medium to create mysterious, poetical images that evoke more than they reveal. The vibrant hues suggest the artist’s desire to liberate color from its traditional function as a faithful imitation of reality. As is often the case in Redon’s compositions,the forms are indeterminate and the subject elusive. Here, a pensive young woman seems either unaware or unperturbed by the fact that a snake-like creature looms in front of her. The snake is a recurrent symbol in Redon’s art, perhaps reflecting his interest in comparative religion and the occult. He was an adept at theosophy, an esoteric philosophy popular in the late 19th century that combined aspects of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity, with references to modern science, Darwinism, and evolutionary theory.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Odilon Redon, French (Bordeaux, France 1840 - 1916 Paris, France)
Head of a Young Woman
Work Type
19th-20th century
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Pastel on gray-prepared paper
52.6 x 37.7 cm (20 11/16 x 14 13/16 in.)
frame: 61.6 × 48.9 cm (24 1/4 × 19 1/4 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Klaus Berger, Odilon Redon: Fantasy and Colour, McGraw-Hill Book Company (New York, Toronto, London, 1965), cat. no. 407

Roseline Bacou, Odilon Redon Pastels, George Braziller, Inc. (New York, 1987), cat. no. 44, repr.

Alec Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné, Wildenstein Institute (Paris, 1992-1998), vol. 1, p. 129, cat. no 308, repr.

Edward Saywell, "Guide to Drawing Terms and Techniques", Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1998), vol. VI, no. 2, pp. 30-39, p. 35 under "Pastel"

Greg Stone, Artful Business: 50 Lessons from Creative Geniuses (Boston, 2016), p. 114, ill. (color)

Colleen Walsh, Drawing Power: Harvard Art Museums exhibit a showcase for masterworks in progress, Harvard Gazette ([online], May 19, 2016), http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/05/drawing-power/, accessed May 23, 2016

Carey Dunne, Flowers of Evil and the Macabre Literary Imagination of Symbolism, Hyperalleric (July 4, 2016), [e-journal], http://hyperallergic.com/305877/flowers-of-evil-and-the-macabre-literary-imagination-of-symbolism/, accessed January 9, 2017

Franklin Einspruch, Fuse Visual Art Review: A Pair of Drawing Shows at the Harvard Art Museums, The Arts Fuse ([e-journal], June 9, 2016), repr., http://artsfuse.org/146319/fuse-visual-arts-review-a-pair-of-drawing-shows-at-the-harvard-art-museums/, accessed June 9, 2016

Exhibition History

Flowers of Evil: Symbolist Drawings, 1870–1910, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu