At the heart of symbolism

From black and white to colour


Self-potrait at 40

A changing being

Under the influence of his master Rodolphe Bresdin, Odilon Redon (1840-1916) first realized a work essentially made of black and white charcoal drawings and lithographs.

Redon developed his love for plants, trees and literature with Armand Clavaud, a botanist friend, close to the French poet Francis Jammes. Through observation and contemplation of nature, he accomplished a true spiritual experience that can be seen in his drawings. Under the influence of the manuscripts of Edgar Allan Poe, he created a catalogue of strange subjects, composed of insects and plants with human faces, which made of him one of the biggest fantastic masters. He illustrated not only the works of Edgar Allan Poe, but also those of Joris-Karl Huysmans and made friend with Stéphane Mallarmé who introduced him to the Symbolist movement.

The painter's life changed radically in 1880 when he married a Creole young woman from the Bourbon Isle (Reunion), who brought him balance and affection. During the following years, he turned towards painting. His very keen sense of colour, which he got from Eugène Delacroix and music, is equally obvious in his oil paintings and pastels. He painted flowers, portraits and mythological scenes in radiant colours.

Around 1900, he is no more than colour, unable to go back to black and white. This rupture in the art is the reflection of a being mutation.

The artist was only slowly approached by a public still full of Impressionism. The penetration in France of the music of Wagner, advocating a new aesthetic consisting in the communion of the soul with nature, on the one hand, and the foundation, in 1885, of the “Wagnerian Magazine” where he published a lithograph, on the other hand, opened the gates to recognition to him.

Just as Gustave Moreau, he was admired by Matisse and the Surrealists. A number of artists have recognized their spiritual and technical gratitude towards that cultivated and deep being.

Detailed page