Odilon Redon

Date/place of birth

April 22, 1840, Bordeaux, France

Day/place of death

July 6, 1916, Paris, France

Odilon Redon - Figure en rouge assise sur un rocher
Odilon Redon - Figure en rouge assise sur un rocher

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Odilon Redon biography

Odilon Redon is one of the most important representatives of French symbolism; the French painter regarded artists as the true visionaries of ethereal worlds and fascinated and disturbed his audience with equally profound and idiosyncratic insights. 

Odilon Redon – Redon loved drawing as a child

Odilon Redon was born Bertrand-Jean Redon on 2 April 1840 in Bordeaux. The second son of a wealthy landowner, he did not grow up with his parents but with an elderly uncle – probably due to his epilepsy illness. Even as a child, Odilon Redon loved nothing more than drawing and at the age of fifteen received tuition in watercolour painting. As well as the fine arts, he was interested in literature, music, and the sciences. In 1864, he visited the studio of the French history painter and sculptor Jean-Léon Gérôme in Paris whose academic painting in the Neoclassical style he found alien. He took rather more inspiration form the French graphic artists Gustave Doré and Rodolphe Bresdin, whose romantic visions with set pieces from religion, mythology and literature would become decisive for his own early etchings. Further admired role models included Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Édouard Manet and Camille Pissarro whose works he had discovered in 1868 in the Salon de Paris.

Black nightmares and colourful idyllic worlds

Odilon Redon began his artistic creativity with his so-called ‘black phase’, naming his consistently black and white charcoal drawings and lithograph prints as Noirs (blacks). He had learnt the technique of lithography in 1878 from Henri Fatin-Latour. Odilon Redon conceived a part of his lithographs as illustrations for works by revered writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert. He also worked as an author himself, composing his own texts and merging them with his paintings to create meaningful artworks. His most famous drawings show a black raven as the messenger of death and a many-legged spider which carried a human face on its black-haired body. A phase of bright pastel colouring in which the artist ventured to the edge of abstraction followed the symbolic light and dark compositions. He often borrowed his choice of colours from Christian mystical colour symbolism and also drew on motifs from Buddhism in order to achieve the transcendence that Redon declared as the goal of all art. 

Constant break with all forms and boundaries

Despite all transparent influences, Odilon Redon created his own unique work. A returning motif took the form of a severed head, detached from the body, which was an expression of longing to break free from all the bonds of form and everyday life and to transcend the boundaries to the next world. His symbolic and sometimes surrealist exploration of the human subconscious disturbed his contemporaries and provoked fierce protests. Influential supporters such as Joris-Karl Huysmans defended Odilon Redon and contributed to his growing prominence in Parisian society. Redon never found real connection or integration however, with established currents of his time such as Impressionism quickly constricting him. His daring strides towards, and anticipation of Surrealism and Expressionism led to later artists frequently referring to him. 

Odilon Redon died in Paris on 6 July 1916.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Odilon Redon Prices

Odilon RedonFigure en rouge assise sur un rocher€75.600
Odilon RedonL'Arbre€31.720
Odilon RedonChrist€1.904
Odilon RedonL'Ange perdu ouvrit alors des Ailes Noires. Antoine: Quel est le but de tout cela?€1.666

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