Born on April 22th 1840 in Bordeaux, Odilon Redon spent his childhood on his own in the family domain of Peyrebade in Medoc. His inspiration, such as his strange worlds and phantasmagoric musing, owe much to the atmosphere of this native land full of chiaroscuro and to the first impressions of this fragile childhood.Read More
Introduced to drawing in 1855 by Stanislas Gorin, Redon studied on his advice, works by Corot, Delacroix and Moreau.
His meeting in 1863 with Rodolphe Bresdin was decisive: he introduced Redon to the techniques of etching, lithography, and by his words, his work and his personality directed him to a free art, away from Naturalism and official conventions. Etchings, pencil drawings and charcoal drawings first exhibited at Bordeaux Salons showed the master's influence and were part of a Romantic tradition.
After the 1870 war in which he participated, Odilon Redon settled in Montparnasse district and then began the fertile period of his 'Blacks', a set of charcoals and lithographs that represented the bulk of his production until 1895.
Redon, who discovered, with the botanist Clavaud and his microscope, the mysteries of the infinitely small, tried to express in visual terms his obsessive themes: fear of origins, the vertigo of the absolute. While many of his works shocked, Huysmans and Mallarmé were among his first followers.
His pessimistic philosophy evolved towards a happier vision. Redon found with pastel and painting new means of expression. During the 1890's, Redon became a great colourist and tried a colourful transposition of the 'Black' themes in paintings (The Eyes closed) and in charcoal enhanced with pastels (Old Angel).
Although isolated among his contemporaries, Odilon Redon became a guide for the following generations. He was considered by many as the greatest French Symbolist painter. Matisse and the Surrealists saw in him a precursor.
Text courtesy Helene Bailly Gallery.