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Odilon Redon
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A Symbolist painter, draughtsman and printmaker, Bertrand-Jean Redon (called Odilon after his mother) was a French artist of considerable poetic sensitivity and imagination whose work developed along two divergent lines. His drawings and prints explored haunting, fantastic, and sometimes macabre themes and foreshadowed the Surrealist and Dadaist movements. His oils and pastels, many of which were still lifes with flowers, won him admiration as an important colorist. Redon’s artistic studies began in 1855 in Bordeaux with Stanislas Gorin (1820?-1896), a history painter. Redon’s many interests at this time included architecture and natural science, influenced in the latter by the botanist Armand Clavaud (1828-1890), who became a life-long friend. After a period of architectural study in Paris in 1859, Redon seems to have begun to focus on art, exhibiting watercolors at the salon of the Société des Amis des Arts de Bordeaux in 1860 and 1861. Redon spent a short time in 1864 studying in the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He returned to Bordeaux in 1865, where he was tutored by the etcher Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885). He exhibited drawings and etchings at the Bordeaux salon from 1865 through 1868. Redon’s interest in art criticism led him to write four articles in 1868 reviewing the Paris Salon for La Gironde, a Bordeaux journal, and another in the same journal in 1869 praising Bresdin’s work. In 1870 he exhibited a painting and a drawing at the Bordeaux Salon and a drawing after Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in the Paris Salon, and then was conscripted into the Army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Redon’s artistic career matured during the decade after he moved to Paris in 1871, where he lived for the rest of his life, although he visited his family’s Médoc estate each summer until it was sold in 1905. He began developing a style of charcoal drawings he called “Noirs,” expressing the fantastic themes for which he became famous. He exhibited drawings and an etching in Bordeaux during the late 1870s and a drawing in the 1878 Paris Salon. Encouraged him to pursue lithography, in 1879 Redon published an album of lithographs, titled Dans la Rêve (The Dream, Mellerio 26-36), the first of a dozen albums of lithographs he published over the next twenty years. During the 1880s Redon became recognized by the artistic avant-garde in Paris. He turned many of his Noir drawings and the themes he pursued in his drawings into lithographs. Solo exhibitions of his works were mounted in 1881 and 1882. He began adding captions to his lithographic images, to critical acclaim. Joris-Karl Huysmans’s (1848-1907) controversial novel A rebours (Against Nature, 1884), illustrated with Redon’s drawings, brought great notoriety to both author and artist. In the same year he exhibited in the first Salon des Artistes Indépendants, which he helped to organize. Later in the decade he exhibited in the last Impressionist exhibition (1886), in Brussels with the Les Vignt group of Belgian avant-garde artists and in Amsterdam. During the late 1880s Redon became characterized as a Symbolist artist. Redon published of the first two of his three lithographic albums interpreting Gustave Flaubert’s La Tentation de Saint Antoine (The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Mellerio 83-93 and 94-100) in 1888 and 1889, and participated in the 1889 exhibition of works by members of the Société de Peintres-Graveurs mounted by gallerist Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). During the 1890s Redon began using color, after having worked primarily in black and white during the previous decades. In addition to exploring the themes of his “Noirs” is color, he pursued other subjects, particularly still lifes and landscapes with flowers, and continued to create portraits. He also pursued historical, religious and literary themes. Two lithographs by Redon were included in André Marty’s (1857-?) portfolio of 94 prints L’estampe originale (The Original Print, 1893-1895). A well-known color lithograph credited to Redon, Beatrice (Mellerio 168), published in Ambrose Vollard’s (1866-1939) L’album d’esampes originales de la Galerie Vollard (Album of Original Prints from the Vollard Gallery) in 1897, is probably the work of the master lithographic printer Auguste Clot (1858–1936), based on a pastel by Redon owned by Vollard. He continued to create charcoal drawings until 1905. He exhibited frequently during the last twenty years of his life in a variety of galleries and exhibitions in Europe and the United States, including the 1904 Paris Salon d’Autonme (where he was given a room to display 62 works) and the 1913 Armory Show in New York. He died in 1916 in Paris. (Rev. TNB 6/2010) Selected bibliography: Druick, Douglas W., ed. Odilon Redon: prince of dreams, 1840-1916. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago,1994. Gott, Ted. The Enchanted Stone: The Graphic Worlds of Odilon Redon. Exhibition catalog. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1990.