Van Gogh illustrates the discontent that launched painting into mobility. A painter who might be used to illustrate the longing for greater intensity might be Georges Seurat. Like Van Gogh, Seurat, the theorist of Neo-Impressionism, is usually treated as a master of colour, of clarity and light, but also like Van Gogh much of his most important research was carried out in black and white and as with Van Gogh it is examples of the black and white work that I want to show you, drawings in which the master of clarity and light shows a great interest in darkness, a darkness in which the figurative shape loses its precision, becoming vague, nebulous, mysterious:

But THE artist of mystery in the late nineteenth century was surely Odilon Redon:

With the almost entirely non-figurative explosion of colour in the background.

And here again:

Mysterious and powerful certainly, but perhaps even more mysterious and powerful without the head:

Gleizes in his last book, Painting and Man Become Painter says of Redon:

'Someone who knew Odilon Redon very well told me that he once heard him reply to a young painter who asked his advice: 'Open your box of pastels.  Choose the one that pleases you most, and crush it on your paper.  Surround it with what suits it, and in that way organise your picture.'   That is painting expressed in its object.  Beginning with the feeling of sight, and finishing with the formed work;  between these two limits, the movement of cadences and of counterpoint.  The order is perfect.'

The point is illustrated in this small painting by Gleizes from round about 1930, a period in which he was engaged in a research into colour almost at the expense of form. A letter written by his friend and colleague, the potter Anne Dangar describe him working on a drawing by her own pupil Estelle Creed at this time:

''He covered a long narrow panel with cobalt, then put her drawing down and made the centre orange red (the complementary – PB), and then he worked out from that centre on one side with orange, yellow, yellow-green, green, and on the other red, crimson, violet-blue. But so gradually! and in such tiny morsels of the bright colours near the centre! Then the border lines, he just used black and white and they looked quite near enough the complementary ... '

And as a further example of this interest in colour breaking free of its representational base, here is the famous 'Talisman' of Paul Sérusier, leading theorist of the group called the 'Nabis'.


Early in his career Sérusier visited Pont-Aven, where Gauguin was based and the 'Talsiman' was the result of an afternoon spent with Gauguin who advised him, when looking at a landscape to discern the subtle colours he saw and to exaggerate them in his painting.