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Odilon Redon was born in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, to a prosperous family. The young Bertrand-Jean Redon acquired the nickname “Odilon” from his mother, Odile Redon started drawing as a child, and at the age of ten he was awarded a drawing prize at school. Aged fifteen, he began the formal study of drawing, but on the insistence of his father he changed to architecture. His failure to pass the entrance exams at Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts ended any plans for a career as an architect, although he briefly studied painting there under Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1864. (His younger brother Gaston Redon would become a noted architect.)
Back home in his native Bordeaux, he took up sculpture, and Rodolphe Bresdin instructed him in etching and lithography. His artistic career was interrupted in 1870 when he joined the army to serve in the Franco-Prussian War.
At the end of the war, he moved to Paris, working almost exclusively in charcoal and lithography. He called his visionary works, conceived in shades of black, his noirs. It would not be until 1878 that his work gained any recognition with Guardian Spirit of the Waters, and he published his first album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, in 1879. Still, Redon remained relatively unknown until the appearance in 1884 of a cult novel byJoris-Karl Huysmans titled, À rebours (Against Nature). The story featured a decadent aristocrat who collected Redon’s drawings.
In the 1890s, pastel and oils became his favored media, and he produced no more noirs after 1900. In 1899, he exhibited with the Nabis at Durand-Ruel‘s. In 1903 he was awarded the Legion of Honor. His popularity increased when a catalogue of etchings and lithographs was published by André Mellerio in 1913 and that same year, he was given the largest single representation at the New York Armory Show.
Redon died on July 6, 1916. In 1923 Mellerio published: Odilon Redon: Peintre Dessinateur et Graveur. An archive of Mellerio’s papers is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2005 the Museum of Modern Art launched an exhibition entitled “Beyond The Visible”, a comprehensive overview of Redon’s work showcasing more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints and books from The Ian Woodner Family Collection. The exhibition ran from October 30, 2005 to January 23, 2006.
Redon also describes his work as ambiguous and undefinable:
- “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”
- Source: Wikipedia