Odilon Redon

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Odilon Redon is regarded as one of the predecessors of the Surrealist art movement. The French artist was a renowned symbolist painter, printmaker, draftsman, and pastellist. His work echoes deeply of poetry and a stirring imagination. Despite being declared a predecessor for the Surrealist movement, Redon also experimented with the Dadaist movement of art, his work streamlines haunting themes to still lives including flowers and landscapes. His mastery of blending the perfect of colors together won him many admirers during his era and even today. His craft is beyond unique hence it comes as a shock to many when they discover that Redon failed to get admission into many top art schools, despite the let downs Redon refused to give up and mostly self-taught himself art.

Born as Bertrand Jean Redon in 1840 in Bordeaux, France into a wealthy family he was affectionately called ‘Odilon’ by his mother. Redon took a liking to art from a young age onwards and upon winning an art competition at the age of 10 firmly decided to pursue art as a future. Despite the rejections he faced from being admitting into many art schools and a brief stint in the army during the French Prussian War, Redon returned to art and took up sculpting. Redon was greatly influenced by poetry, reading greats such as Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, and Flaubert had a profound impact on his drawings. The darker and mysterious element associated with some of works are often due to his liking to poetry. Initially Redon worked heavily in simple black and white but under the mentorships of Jean Leon Gerome, Rodolphe Bresdin and Henri Fantin Latour soon mastered other forms like lithography, and engraving.  Most of Redon’s first works are all pure lithography. Soon the tide shifted and Redon’s work started gearing more towards paintings with brighter tones which were mostly based on mythological themes. For Redon art was all which came from one’s own imagination rather than seeing and painting something as one sees it. Redon started gaining popularity within the art circles and his art also moved towards developing a strong theme of mythological creatures. Odilon Redon was particularly interested in representing the ethereal forms of Venus, Pandora and Andromeda. He was also commissioned by a noted Baron to create 17 panels on the Chateau de Domecy-sur-le-Vault in Burgundy which was the most extensive work Redon ever undertook. The vast panel depicts an array of leaves, twigs and trees and the way it has spread out in multiple shades of greens, browns and orange make it look like it’s never ending. The beauty of the work is that it isn’t clear what exactly has Redon painted, is it a landscape or a part of the artists imagination.

Odilon Redon always insisted that not only his work but art in general should inspire and not be defined in any particular form or terminology. For him it was best that his work as an art stays ambiguous and undefinable, it was his way of giving power to the viewer to be able to see his work and form a narrative of it themselves.

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