Redon, Odilon

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Odilon Redon (1840-1916)


Was Odilon Redon an Impressionist?

Odilon Redon judged the Impressionists to be to slavish in rendering external objects under the open sky in stead of rendering the spiritual life. In the few (deserted) landscapes he made, the colours are subdued and the brushstroke quiet flat. In his later symbolistic paintings Redon used also very bright colours. He never laid emphasize on the rendering of the atmospheric light on the colours. So we can conclude that Redon didn’t paint in an impressionist style.
Redon only joined the last ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886. Though he was born in the same year as Monet, he didn’t seem to have had many contacts within the impressionist circles. In that sense Redon is just a side-figure within the ‘impressionist’ art-movement.
Redon was a main figure within the Salon des Indépendants, had close contacts with Seurat, Signac, Guillaumin and later on with Gauguin. Redon also was a main figure within Symbolism. In that sense Redon can be seen as an important post-impressionist.


Odilon Redon at the Salon:

Redon exhibited on an irregular base at the Salon. He at least exhibited in 1867 / 70/ 78/ 85/ 86. One source indicates that Redon exhibited a charcoal drawing called ‘Béatrix’ at the Salon of 1883 (aR1), but this is not confirmed by the Salon database (iR1).



Redon only joined the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition:

At the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886 Redon showed 15 works (catalogue numbers 124-138; R2,p445/6). According to Rewald all exhibited works were drawings and they hung in a hallway (R1,p523). I assume several were oil paintings. The catalogue doesn’t indicate what media were used. According to Fénéon they were poorly selected (R1,p533). Redon was introduced by Guillaumin (R1,p523). Darzens (1886/05) describes his work as ‘grotesque and childish’. Fèvre (1886/ 05-06) describes his work at ‘nightmare grimaces’. Ajalbert (1886/06/20) describes his work as ‘fantastic visions’. Adam (1886/04) writes ‘His genius, independent of all schools, bears no immediate relation to Impressionism’. Javel (1886/05/16) reviews ‘Odilon Redon with his visions of profoundly subjective originality, has an entire panel to himself…’. (R2,p464).
Note: Redon also exhibited at the Salon in 1886. What had happened with the Degas doctrine that this was forbidden?
See link for his -/-pictures. See link for an account.


Redon at other exhibitions:

1881: one man show with drawings and lithographs at ‘La Vie Moderne’ (R1,p500;aR1;R3;R8,p218). 1882: exhibited about 20 charcoal drawings at ‘Le Gaulois’. He received positieve criticism for the ‘majestic, delicate, subtle, perverse and seraphical’ elements in his work from Hennequin and Huysmans. (R1,p501;aR1). 1884/05/15: exhibited at the exposition des Artistes Indépendants (R39,p41). 1884/06: co-founder of the ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’; Redon is the first chairman (R5,p140;R39,p41;R1,p508;R3). 1884/12: exhibits at the 1st Salon des Indépendants (R1,p510). 1886/02/08: exhibits with Les XX in Brussels (R5,p148;R55;R3;aR1). He will do so again in 1887 and 1890 (R55;aR1).  1889/01/23: exhibition of the ‘Société des Peintres-Graveurs’ organized by Durand-Ruel, including works of Redon (and Bracquemond and Pissarro) (R5,p168;aR1); also in 1892 (aR1). 1893-1914: exhibits with the ‘Free Esthetics’ in Brussels, the successor of Les XX (aR1). 1894: Durand-Ruel organized an exhibition of works of Redon (R4,p270;aR1). 1894: exhibited in The Hague, Holland at the ‘Kunstkring’ (R55). 1898: an successful exhibition at Vollard (aR1).  1899/03/10: Redon co-organized (with Signac and Denis) a major exhibition at Durand-Ruel (R39,p174+308;R55;iR3;aR1). 1900: exhibition at Durand-Ruel (aR1). 1903: exhibited in Vienna at the Vienna Secession (R55). 1904: at the Salon d’Automne he was honoured with a room for his own. exhibiting 62 works (aR1;R14;R55). 1906/03: exhibited 45 works at an one-man exhibition at Durand-Ruel; half were flower pieces (R55). 1913: took part at the ‘Armory Show’ in the USA (iR3;aR1).
Theo van Gogh, who died 1891/01, had bought works from Redon and other modern painters. His boss Boussod complaint that it brought his gallery to discredit. (R1,p560).


Redon as an artist:

1855: Redon was a pupil of Stanislas Gorin in Bordeaux (aR1;R55). Redon was a pupil of Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts; in 1864 (or: 63) he visited his studio for a short while (iR1;R16;R14;R1,p73;R55;R13;iR3). He didn’t appreciate his professor: ‘At the ‘Ecole des Beaux-Arts, I paid a lot of attention to the rendering of form… I was tortured by the professor… he tried visibly to inculcate in me his own manner of seeing and to make me a disciple… he made me close my eyes to light and neglect the viewing of substances…’ (R1,p73). Walther calls him an autodidact (R3). Around 1863-5: Rodolphe Bresdin taught him the art of etching (R55;iR3;R13;R16;R1,p414). Some sources write that Redon was introduced in the technique of lithography by Henri-Fatin Latour (R13;aR1). Inspired by Daumier, Goya, Millet, Moreau, Rouault (R14), Gustave Moreau (iR24) and the clair-obscure of Rembrandt (aR1). Redon admires Delacroix (R3;R1,p89). Acquaintance with Corot, Courbet and Fatin-Latour (R3). Corot taught him: ‘Go to the same place every year, copy the same tree.’ (R1,p101). Around 1890 also inspired by Vuillard and Bonnard (aR1).
For about two decades Redon only makes (copper) etchings and black and white drawings (R14,p234;R3). House mentions he did so after 1879 (R55). Some call these black and white drawings ‘disturbing’ (R16). They have some similarity with the drawings of Seurat, who was influenced by Redon (R1,p506;R8,p297). Between 1879-99 Redon made 166 lithographs (R55). In 1879 he published his first album with lithographs titled ‘Dans le Rêve’ (In the dream) (iR3;aR1). Redon also made book illustrations for books of Edgar Allen Poe (1882)  (aR1;R14). 1883: the origins appear, an album of 8 lithographs (aR1). Redon also made lithographs / book illustrations for Edmond Picard (1887), Flaubert (1888+89+96), Bulwer-Lyton (1896), Mallarmé (1897-1900) (aR1). Redon stopped making his ‘noirs’ after 1900 (iR3). 
In his earlier years, Redon made several landscapes in the manner of Corot, Chintreuil and Cazin (R55). His earlier still lives with flowers were being executed in a sombre tonality (R55). Around 1890 he started to paint and to use colour (R14;R16;R74). 1890: closer friendship with Gauguin (R3;aR1;R74), who had rejected his impressionist ideals in 1888 (R6,p196). Although he had always produced a few oil paintings, it was only around 1895 that his works became highly coloured (R55). 1891: starts to work in a symbolistic style (R3). In his works he expresses a world of phantasy and dreams and renders mythological and religious themes (R14). Or in other words: ‘a world of monsters, symbolic fantasies, dreams and visions, ans mythological and erotic themes and allegories on death’ (R13).  Redon also makes many still lives depicting flowers (R14). He tried to render the superficial beauty of natural objects, such as flowers (R55). By circa 1900 all his work had become a celebration of explosive colour (R55). His whole oeuvre is marked by a mysterious and briljant colourfullness (R13). From 1908-14 he makes many works depicting mythological goddesses like Venus, Andromeda and Pandora (R14,p236). Redon is seen as one of the most important Symbolists (R14). He writes (1898/07/21): ‘the only aim of my art is to produce within the spectator a sort of diffuse but powerful affinity with the obscure world of the indeterminate’ (R55) His work represents an exploration of his internal feelings and psyche (iR3). Redon was also part of the Nabis (aR1).
In 1899 Redon made 17 decorative panels, now 15 of them are in Musée d’Orsay (iR3).
Signac (1895+99) admired Redon his work, a drawing for ‘the superb quality of the blacks and whites, (and) their prefect arrangement’, and in general ‘as an artist who exploited the subject as merely a pretext for the play of colour, line and form’ (R39,p65+76+81). Redon influenced Bonnard, Denis, Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) (R6,p269;R74). Redon was a teacher of Gustave Fayet (iR24). He inspired the Surrealists (R74).
In 1868 Redon reviewed the Salon (R1,p188). He writes: ‘We are witnessing the end of an old school.’ About Daubigny he writes: ‘it is impossible not to recognize the exact hour at which M. Daubigny has been working. He is the painter of a moment, of an impression…’ He criticizes Manet and others ‘to limit themselves to the literal reproduction of reality…’ About Pissarro he writes, that he expresses more vividly the general impression, with a very rudimentary technique. ‘The colour is somewhat dull…’ He also praises Corot and Courbet, but neglects Bazille, Degas, Morisot, Renoir and Sisley. (R1,p188;R8,p142;R13) He than also writes: ‘Some want to limit the art of painting to rendering what we see…. the true art lies in the felt reality.’ (R74). More in general he opposes Realism and states ‘their human figures are without inner spiritual live’ (R8,p100;R55).
Redon once said: ‘I refused to step in the impressionist boat’ (R16).  Redon wanted to put the logic of the visible in service of the invisible (R14,p234). In his diary (1880/04/10) he writes about the decline of Morisot’s exquisite talent and his being impressed by Degas. He describes impressionism is a ‘representation of external objects under the open sky’. But according to himself ‘the future belongs to a subjective world’, not with a man that observes but one that meditates and listens to his inner voices. (R1,p442) Redon judges that Impressionism ‘was too slavish in its devotion to the external appearance of an object, an approach which shut off the artist from the essence of internal qualities of the object, from its spiritual light.’ (R55,p120) Redon himself rendered strange dream worlds (R74). His imagination always come forth of observing nature (R74).


Bertrand-Jean Redon, a short biography:

  • 1840/04/20: Odilon Redon was born as Bertrand-Jean in Bordeaux. Wikipedia indicates that Redon was born the 20th, revering to a birth act (iR3). Several sources (wrongly) indicate he was born the 22nd (R13;R3;iR1;R14).
    The family was prosperous (iR3)
  • 1840-51: Redon grew up with his uncle in Peyrelebade (Médoc) (aR1;R16)
    Later on he would often return to this family estate (aR1).
  • 1859: went to Paris (R55). first to study / work as an architect (R55;iR3)
    Other sources indicate that Redon went to Paris in 1864 (aR1)
  • 1870: Redon lived at 41, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, Paris (iR1)
  • 1878: Redon painted in Holland (iR24)
  • 1878-86?: Redon lived at 76, rue de Rennes, Paris (iR1;R2,p445)
  • 1880/05/01: marries Camille Falte (aR1)
  • 1884: Joris-Karl Huysmans his novel ‘à rebours’ (against nature / wrong way) appeared, about a decadent aristocrat who also collected Redon’s drawings (iR3;aR1). In a passage Huysmans writes: ‘These drawings defied classification…, they ushered in a very special type of the fantastic, one born of sickness and delirium (iR3).
  • 1886/05/11: birth of his son Jean, who will die the same year 1886/11/27 (aR1)
  • 1889/04/30: birth of his son Arï (aR1)
  • 1903: Redon was awarded the Legion d’Honneur (iR3)
  • 1907: auction of his works at Drouot (aR1)
  • 1909-16: lives a withdrawn live in Bièvres, near Paris (R3)
  • 1913: André Mellerio published a catalogue of his etchings and lithographs (iR3)
  • 1916/07/06: Redon died in Paris (R13;R3;R14;R74;aR1;iR24)
  • 1923: Mellerio published: Odilon Redon, Peintre, dessinateur et graveur (iR3)



My main sources are Rewald, (1973=R1), Moffett (1986, R2), Walther (2013, R3,p690), Roe (2006=R4), Denvir (1993, R5), Pool (1987=R6), Schilderkunst (1987=R13,p600), Schneider (2007=R14,p273), Spiess (1992=R16,p276-9), Ferretti-Bocquillon (2001=R39), House (1979=R55,p119-21), Maillard (1968=R74,p302-4),  the Salon database (iR1), Wikipedia (iR3), the RKD (iR24) and the additional references (=aRx; see below). For other general references (=R) see. My main sources (for the pictures) from the internet are the-athenaeum (iR2), Wikimedia (iR6) and Mutualart (iR11). For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.

For further reading:

Redon, Odilon: Lettres d’Odilon Redon. Brussels and Paris, 1923. (R55,p298)
Redon, Odilon: A soi-même. Paris, 1961 (R55,p298)
Harrison, Sharon R.: The etchings of Odilon Redon, a catalogue raisonné. New York, 1986 (iR24).
Wildenstein, Alec and others: Odilon Redon, catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint et dessiné. 4 Vol. Paris, 1992-98. (iR24)


Additional references:

  1. (timeline of Redon his life)
  2. (online publication of volume I ‘Portraits et Figures’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1992;=R182;=iR189)
  3. (online publication of volume II ‘Mythes and Légendes’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1992;=R182;=iR189)
  4. (online publication of volume III ‘Fleurs et Paysages’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1992;=R182;=iR189)
  5. (online publication of volume IV ‘Études, décorations et suplement’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1992;=R182;=iR189)
  6. (online publication of volume IV of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1992, with overview of works exhibited;=R182;=iR189)
  7. x