Collection

Redon and His Contemporaries

Odilon Redon was born in Bordeaux, France on 20 April 1840. In his youth the artist experienced several setbacks. He failed the examination for entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts to study architecture in Paris, and though he became a student in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme, leader of the style known as Academicism, he found he could not go along with his teacher’s ideas about art. Around the mid-1860s, he met the wandering romanticist engraver and lithographer Rodolphe Bresdin in Bordeaux and studied the technique of etching under his guidance. Bresdin opened the young Redon’s eyes to the rich possibilities of black and white. Later Redon called his own prints and charcoal drawings from the 1860s to the 1880s his “Noirs” (Black Works). Redon’s “Noirs” already showed his artistic inclinations, and his work in pastels and oils blossomed from the 1890s. As a painter, Redon adored Eugéne Delacroix and without doubt was influenced by two elder painters, Puvis de Chavannes and Gustave Moreau. In the mid-1880s the idyllic atmosphere of wall paintings by Puvis de Chavannes became a symbol of the enduring as opposed to the immediacy of the Naturalists, in particular, the Impressionists. The symbolist generation, Paul Gauguin, Émile Bernard, the Nabis, etc., recognized Odilon Redon, Puvis de Chavannes, and Gustave Moreau as their precursors. Redon was fascinated by Moreau’s interpretation of mythic and biblical subjects. He died in Paris on 6 July 1916. The fantasy of his “Noir” and color works manifests the triumph of the artist’s imagination, which he esteemed even more than observation of nature, though he seems to have conversed with the mysteries of nature throughout his life.