Odilon REDON: Princesse Maleine (La Petite madone) - 1892
[Princess Maleine (The Little Madonna)]
Etching and drypoint, 121 x 66 mm. Mellerio 22, 1st edition.
Superb impression from the first edition of 1892, printed on cream laid paper watermarked MBM and signed with initials Od. R. in pencil in the lower margin. Titled princesse Maleine in pencil in the bottom left corner of the sheet.
Generally in very good condition. A few very light foxmarks and tiny stains. Full uncut margins (sheet: 360 x 275 mm).
Odilon Redon only printed 8 impressions of Princesse Maleine, inking only the top three-quarters of the plate on which he had previously etched David (Mellerio 14); in the lower part of the plate, the scratches and incisions made for David haven't been erased completely. The height to which the plate was inked differs from one impression to the next: on this one, the printed surface measures 88 x 66 mm.
Odilon Redon's widow had two posthumous editions of Princesse Maleine printed in 1922 by Louis Fort: 30 impressions on Japan paper and 125 impressions after steel-facing of the plate, also printed on Japan paper, to illustrate Odilon Redon's diary À soi-même [To Himself]. These impressions were made with the plate entirely inked, and so strokes remaining from the David are visible in the lower part. A few more impressions were made more recently on wove or Japan paper, before the copperplate was lost. None of those posthumous impressions match the quality of the first edition.
The catalogue raisonné of Odilon Redon's etchings by André Mellerio lists five impressions of the first edition: three are kept in the Art Institute of Chicago, the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. A fourth one is in a private collection in Paris; the fifth one is mentioned in the catalogue Meisterwerke der Graphik by Kornfeld and Klipstein (1976). Only one is signed Odilon Redon, three others are signed with his initials, Od.R. A sixth impression also kept in the Art Institute of Chicago is to be added to this list; it is signed with the artist's full name.
The title Princesse Maleine refers to the eponymous play by Maurice Maeterlinck, written in 1889. The play tells the tragic story of the young princess, in love with a prince who is an enemy of her parents. She is put in prison, then poisoned and strangled. “Something dark is coming,” says a worried Maleine while the poison is being prepared (Act III, Scene 3). The black shadows on the etching embody the obscure threat that fills the young princess with foreboding. Redon's drypoint gives a lovely grace to her delicate face (“I saw her only once... But she had a certain way of looking down”, Act I, Scene 3), but it drowns the young woman's body in black ink from the burr from the drypoint. Redon partially erased the copperplate for David to etch Princesse Maleine, but he made sure to keep the horizontal strokes that were used to cancel the previous design: in the new picture, these scratches herald the young woman's tragic destiny. Only the impressions from the first edition, with deep and delicate black tones, manage to render perfectly the symbolist and tragic atmosphere of this image.
Literature has pride of place in Odilon Redon's graphic works, for example in the album À Edgar Poe (1882) or the three series of plates for La Tentation de Saint Antoine, inspired by Gustave Flaubert's text and published between 1888 and 1896. But Redon's works also inspired writers, especially young Maeterlinck: the writer Iwan Gilkin mentions that in 1887, Redon's lithographs hung on the walls of Maeterlinck's study in Oostacker.