(Bordeaux 1840 - 1916 Paris)
Oil on paper laid down on cardboard, 24.6 x 20.1 cm
Signed lower right OD.R.
Gustave Fayet, until c.1900
Private collection, France
By descent to private collection, England
With Jill Newhouse, New York, 2006 
Alec Wildenstein, Odilon Redon: Catalogue Raisonne de L'Oeuvre Peint et Dessine, vol. III, no. 1757, p. 235, ill. p. 228
Even the natural phenomena, the tree, water and grass, are made mysterious by a skillful marriage between a deliberate vagueness of detail and a lively exploration of tonal values.
This characterization of Redon’s early style is quite appropriate, as it sets him apart from the naturalism of the previous generation, as exemplified by Gustave Courbet. Nature does, in fact, play an important role in Odilon Redon’s life and oeuvre. Arbres, inspired by the School of Barbizon, was painted en plein-air, as evidenced by the pin-holes in the corners of the paper. Redon did not typically paint naturalistic forest landscapes. Instead, he tended to highlight one element, in this case a forked tree, a motive he took up several times. He kept most of these oil sketches until his death, except for this one, which caught the eye of the painter Gustave Fayet, his patron and friend. Fayet’s important collection comprised works by Degas, Manet, Corot, Pissarro, Redon, Gauguin and many others. Fayet was an important patron of both Redon and Gauguin.
The sketch elucidates the influence exerted by Corot’s late romanticizing work on Redon, but whereas Corot painted realistic landscapes with a profusion of detail, Redon simplified the composition and let less important naturalistic details play a subordinate role. Here tonal delicacy is combined with a forceful division of light and dark planes. These endeavors are somewhat similar to the paintings made a decade later by the Post-Impressionist and avant-garde painters who called themselves Les Nabis.
Before 1890, Redon's reputation rested almost exclusively on his work in black and white. He had produced a large number of charcoal drawings, which he called his noirs, and numerous lithographs. They evoke a fantasy world of often melancholic imagery. Up to this point, his use of color had been limited to landscape studies like the present one, which were probably not intended for public display. In the early 1890s he began to extend his use of color and to develop the subject matter of his noirs. Color became dominant in the oils and pastels made from 1900 onward.
 The entire provenance has been provided by Jill Newhouse.  Richard Hobbs, Odilon Redon, Boston 1977, p. 18.  John Rewald, in, exhib. cat, Odilon Redon, Gustave Moreau, Rodolphe Bresdin, Museum of Modern Art, New York and Art Institute of Chicago 1961-1962, p. 29.