French Symbolist Painter, Graphic Artist, & Printmaker – Odilon Redon

‘Symbolist’ painter, graphic artist, and printmaker, Bertrand Jean Redon or Odilon Redon, was born on April 20, 1840 in Bordeaux, France. He was born in the wealthy family of Bertrand Redon, a French colonist, and Marie Guerin. Odilon spent his early childhood at his uncle’s estate in Peyrelebade. In 1880, he married Camille Falte, who later on acted as his spokesperson, dealing with the media and the buyers of his works.

In 1855, Redon began studying drawing at school under Stanislas Gorin and won various prizes. However, his father persuaded him to choose architecture as a career. Odilon was unsuccessful in clearing the entrance exam of École des Beaux-Arts, Paris and gave up the idea of being an architect. In the year 1860, Odilon participated in exhibitions highlighting water-colored landscapes, influenced by the work of Stanislas Gorin, his art teacher. Redon’s first publicly recognized work, “Roland à Roncevaux,” created in 1862, was exhibited at the Salon (1867) and 19th Show of Arts (1870).

At Bordeaux, the artist devoted his time mastering sculpturing, and under the guidance of Rodolphe Bresdin, he learnt the techniques of etching, and lithography. In 1864, Redon moved to Paris to join the Beaux-Arts School. In 1865, he started working on a series of eleven ‘eaux-fortes’ (form of ‘etchings’) at Delâtre that characterized a noticeable impact of Delacroix and Dauzat. Odilon had to serve in the army during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870-71, putting his art career on the back burner for the time being.

After the war, he migrated to Paris. In 1878, he made first of his many trips to Holland and Belgium, where he studied the work of Rembrandt in greater depth. Redon achieved fame with his work “Guardian Spirit of the Waters (1878).” He went on to produce numerous lithographic albums starting with, “In the Dream (1879),” followed by “For Edgar Allan Poe (1882),” “The Origins (1883),” “Homage to Goya (1885),” and “The Night (1886).” During all these years, Redon’s works were focused merely on lithography and charcoal. 1884 became the banner year for the artist, when he gained recognition, in the avant-garde circle of literary figures, by Joris-Karl Huysman’s novel titled, ‘À rebours (Against Nature).’ The very year, Odilon’s works were put to display at the first ‘Salon des Indépendants.’ In 1886, he displayed his works in Paris, with the ‘Impressionists’ and in Brussels, with ‘The Twenty.’

1890s saw Redon switching over to pastels and oils. He produced a series of lithographic canvasses that began with “Dreams (1891)” and ended with “Revelation of St. John (1899).” The beginning of 20th century, however, saw him drift away from lithographic and morbid themes towards flowers, as reflected in his “Flowers in a Vase (1905),” and “Vase with Anemones (1914).” He once commented, “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.” He won the Legion of Honor in 1903, and overshadowed every other artist at the famed Armory Show (1913) in the New York City. Odilon died on July 6, 1916 in Paris, leaving behind an unfinished oil canvas titled, “The Virgin.”