Odilon Redon

“Painting consists in using a special sense, an innate sense for composing a beautiful substance. To do as nature does: create diamonds, gold, sapphires, agates, precious metal, silk, flesh: it is a gift of delicious sensuality.” ~ Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist painter, lithographer and etcher whose art began as haunted and macabre themed and developed into a colorist whose imaginative art would attract artists such as Matisse to consider him as his predecessor in Surrealism. Born on April 20, 1840, Odilon Redon was originally Bertrand-Jean Redon, though was nicknamed “Odilon” by his mother. He began drawing at a young age, though was encouraged to pursue architecture by his father. Though failing the entrance exam into Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts ended that career path, he was able to study painting under Jean-Leon Gerome. Later Redon studied engraving with Rodolphe Bresdin and lithography with Henri Fantin-Latour . Redon’s art consisted of charcoal and lithographs, mainly in black and white until he was about fifty years old. His style reflected his inner turmoil with the dark hues, shadows and odd subjects (insects, plants with human heads, etc). He called these dark visionary works “noirs”. In 1882, he dedicated a series to Edgar Allen Poe, which he considered to be visionary works of the poems.

Odilon Redon was relatively unknown until 1884 with the publication of the occult novel, A Rebours by J.K. Huysmans. The novel depicted a man who collected the paintings of Redon, which brought his art into mainstream focus. He received commissions over the next few years for large decorative works at some private residences. Through finding Hinduism, Buddhism and surviving a serious illness, his disposition improved. He began to paint in color with oils and pastels in 1890 and his true talent as a Surrealist painter appeared. Redon created a few portraits but mainly focused on flowers and mythological scenes, using his new color palate to impress budding artists such as Matisse.

In 1903, Redon was awarded the Legion of Honor, which is the highest decoration in France. Within his lifetime, Odilon Redon created over 200 paintings, lithographs and etches. In 1913, he showed at the New York Armory Show with the most representation in the show. Three years later, Odilon Redon will pass away in Paris leaving a legacy as the predecessor for the Surrealism movement.

"Nothing in Art is achieved by will alone. It is achieved by docilely submitting to the subconscious." - Odilon Redon