Saturday, February 24, 2018

Odilon Redon (by Caroline Breaux)

Odilon Redon (1840-1916), born as Bertrand-Jean Redon, was a French symbolist printmaker and painter.  "Odilon" is the nickname he received from his mother, Odile.  Drawing had always been an interest of Odilon, even from a young age.  He tried to pursue it formally at age 15, however his father pushed for him to become an architect instead.  In order to please his father, Redon went to Paris in hopes of studying architecture, but failed the entrance exam causing him to return to his hometown of Bordeaux in 1864.  Around this time, he took up etching.  In 1870, he was drafted to serve in the Franco-Prussian War for a year. 
Photograph of Odilon Redon,
Courtesy of

After the war, he moved to Paris to continue the artistic career he had attempted to start prior to being drafted. He eventually was encouraged to try lithography and realized that this technique allowed him to achieve a vast range of rich tones and contrasts of light and dark, which was crucial to his style as he almost exclusively worked in black and white.  His works that were produced in shades of black were called his noirs.  During the span of his life, he created about 30 etchings and 200 lithographs. 

Strange Flower (Little Sister of the Poor), 1880

Uses various charcoals, with black chalk and black Conté crayon.  Techniques include stumping, wiping, erasing, on yellowish cream wove paper altered to a golden tone

"Black is the most essential colour.  Nothing prostitutes it." 

Guardian Spirit of the Waters, 1878

Uses various charcoals, with added touches of black chalk. Techniques include stumping, erasing, wiping, adding traces of white chalk, all on cream wove paper altered to a golden tone.

Often using nature as a starting point, his works are representations of new worlds found only in the imagination of Redon himself.  They encompass both symbolism and surrealism as they advocate for this use of imagination and stray far away from realism, allowing for a more personal artistic vision.  His works also seem to have various literary associations and symbolism as many are interpretations of writers such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, and Poe.  In order to spread his work to larger audiences effectively, Redon used albums based on specific themes or literary subjects in order to group his lithographs.  The following two lithographs come from Redon's portfolio of six lithographs called To Edgar Poe. These prints were not intended to be exact illustrations of Poe's poems, but show a connection to them.

The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon Moves Towards Infinity, plate one from To Edgar Poe, 1882

Lithograph in black on ivory China paper, laid down on white wove paper

In the Spheres (The Breath Which Leads Living Creatures is also in the Spheres), plate five from To Edgar Poe, 1882

Lithograph in black on ivory China paper, laid down on white wove paper

"My drawings inspire and do not define themselves.  They determine nothing.  They place us just as music does in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate." 

After 1900, he stopped the production of his noirs and his artistic style took a turn towards exclusively pastel and oils.  Subjects of his later works focused more on Hindu and Buddhist religion/culture, landscapes, and portraits. 

The Buddha, 1905, Pastel

This pastel showcases Redon's interest in Buddhist culture and takes a dramatic turn from his black and white noirs as this work is quite colorful and the subject matter is less eerie.

Woman with Wild Flowers, 1895-98, charcoal and pastel on paper

This is another portrait, this time of a woman.  This woman bears a resemblance to Redon's wife, Camille, who was a large inspiration for his female subjects, however, Redon never explicitly shares the identity of the woman in the work. 

Paul Gauguin, 1903-05, oil on canvas

This is a portrait of the French painter Gaugin, however, it is after Gaugin's death and entirely from Redon's memory.  This painting shows that even though the subject was a real person, Redon still uses his imagination to create a work that is more surreal than it is real.    

 I chose Redon because his bizarre works really stood out to me.  He has a distinct style that makes him extremely unique and different from the traditional artists that I have learned about in past art classes.  Personally, his noirs are my favorite because they are more mysterious and I like how he only used tones of black.  They truly contain subjects that could only come from one's own imagination and have an eerie feeling to them which make you want to speculate the story behind them.  His paintings are still enjoyable to look at, but they don't stand out to me as much stylistically as his charcoal drawings do.   


“Bertrand-Jean Redon.” Odilon Redon - The Complete Works,

“The Eye, Like a Strange Balloon Moves Towards Infinity, Plate One from To Edgar Poe.” The Art Institute of Chicago,

Hobbs, Richard. “Redon, Odilon (Bertrand-Jean).” Oxford Art Online [Oxford UP], 2003,

“In the Spheres (The Breath Which Leads Living Creatures Is Also in the Spheres), Plate Five from To Edgar Poe.” The Art Institute of Chicago,

“Odilon Redon Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works.” The Art Story,

Paul Gauguin by REDON, Odilon,

Redon, Odilon. “The Buddha.” Web Gallery of Art,

Redon, Odilon. “Guardian Spirit of the Waters.” The Art Institute of Chicago,

Redon, Odilon. I Am the First Consciousness of Chaos: the Black Album. Solar Books, 2010.

Redon, Odilon. “Odilon Redon. The Eye like a Strange Balloon Mounts toward Infinity (L'Œil, Comme Un Ballon Bizarre Se Dirige Vers L'infini). 1882 | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art,

“Redon, Odilon.” Oxford Art Online [Oxford UP], 31 Oct. 2011,

Redon, Odilon. “Strange Flower (Little Sister of the Poor).” The Art Institute of Chicago,

Woman with Wild Flowers by REDON, Odilon,

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