Odilon Redon



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Odilon Redon

From Top: The Rocky Slope (c. 1875), Trees in the Blue Sky (c. 1883), Apache (Man on Horseback) (c. 1875), Large Bouquet in a Blue Vase (after 1912)

“Born Bertrand-Jean Redon, this French painter, printmaker, and draftsman spent his childhood at Peyrelebade, his father’s estate in the Médoc. Peyrelebade became a basic source of inspiration for all his art, providing him with both subjects from nature and a stimulus for his fantasies, and Redon returned there constantly until its enforced sale in 1897. He received his education in Bordeaux from 1851, rapidly showing talent in many art forms: he studied drawing with Stanislas Gorin (?1824–?1874) from 1855; in 1857 he attempted unsuccessfully to become an architect; and he also became an accomplished violinist. He developed a keen interest in contemporary literature, partly through the influence of Armand Clavaud, a botanist and thinker who became his friend and intellectual mentor.

Redon’s vocation was still undecided in 1864 when he studied painting briefly and disastrously at the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris. He returned to Bordeaux, and his commitment to the visual arts was strengthened by his friendship with Rodolphe Bresdin, whose drawings and prints he much admired. He learnt from Bresdin’s skills as an engraver and made etchings under his guidance. In 1868 and 1869 Redon published his first writings: a review of the 1868 Paris Salon and an article on Bresdin, both in the Bordeaux newspaper La Gironde. His criticism looked back to the provincial artistic values of his background but also forward to an art of the future that would advocate imagination rather than pursuing realism. Such views reflected his wider loyalties: to Rembrandt and Corot, and especially to Delacroix. These early developments matured into an active artistic career only after the Franco-Prussian War, in which Redon served as a soldier. He regarded this experience as the catalyst that finally produced in him a firm sense of vocation. He settled in Paris for the first time, spending only his summers at Peyrelebade, and he began to participate in Parisian artistic and intellectual life. He was by then producing large numbers of highly original charcoal drawings, which he called his Noirs. They evoke a mysterious world of subjective, often melancholic fantasy. In 1879, partly at the suggestion of Fantin-Latour, he published his first album of lithographs, Dans le rêve.

Redon’s reputation until 1890 rested entirely on work in black and white, but he had been using colour in unexhibited landscape studies. From about 1890 he began to extend his use of colour to works that repeat or develop the subject-matter of the Noirs. Many of these were oils, such as Closed Eyes (1890; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), but pastels also became frequent (e.g. Christ in Silencec. 1895; Paris, Petit Pal.). During the 1890s he used colour alongside monochrome, colour gradually becoming dominant, and after 1900 he abandoned the Noirs. Earlier subject-matter recurred, but new motifs also appeared, flowers, especially, becoming a central preoccupation. The increasingly decorative tone of these works led to commissions for screens and murals, an outstanding example being the paintings (1910–11) on the walls of the library at Fontfroide Abbey near Narbonne. The serene lyricism of these late colour works contrasts with the prevailing melancholy of the Noirs, but Redon’s fundamental aesthetic had not altered. The transformation of nature into dream-like images, suggesting indefinite states of mind and expressed in sumptuous textures, remained his central concern, and the exploratory freedom with which he investigated the suggestive potential of colour contributed considerably to Post-Impressionist art. His innovations were admired by the Nabis and by some of the Fauves, including Matisse.”

-Richard Hobbs for Oxford University Press, Grove Art Online

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