Redon, Odilon



Impressionism, the partakers of the expositions:

Odilon Redon


A symbolist partaking in 1886

in the last ‘impressionist’ exposition


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 quite 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.
Odilon 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 forerunner of Symbolism. In that sense Redon can be seen as an important post-impressionist.

Redon only joined the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition:
At the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886 Odilon Redon showed 15 art-works and probably also a fan outside the catalogue (catalogue numbers 124-138+hc; R2,p445/6;R90I,p449). According to Rewald all exhibited works were drawings and they hung in a seperate hallway (R1,p523;R2,p439;R90I,p459). This seems to be confirmed by the reviews of Maus (no less than 15 drawings) and Hennequin (R90I,p459+454). Redon is called the Edgar Allen Poe of drawing (R90I,p433+437+438). According to Fénéon his works were poorly selected (R1,p533). Darzens (1886/05) described his work as ‘grotesque and childish’. Fèvre described his work at ‘nightmare grimaces’. Ajalbert described his work as ‘fantastic visions’. Adam wrote ‘His genius, independent of all schools, bears no immediate relation to Impressionism’. Javel reviewed ‘Odilon Redon with his visions of profoundly subjective originality, has an entire panel to himself…’. (R2,p464). Redon his drawings stand in in a more symbolist tradition. He was introduced by Guillaumin (R1,p523).
Note: Redon also exhibited at the Salon in 1886. What had happened with the Degas doctrine that this was forbidden?
See link for an impression of his exhibited pictures in 1886. See link for an account.

Odilon Redon at the Salon and other exhibitions:
Odilon Redon exhibited on an irregular base at the Salon and it’s successor of the Société des Artistes Français in 1867 + 70 + 78 + 85 + 86. In 1868 he was accepted, but he did exhibit. (iR1;R182IV,p329). Redon also exhibited at regional exhibitions, namely in Bordeaux from 1860-1883 (iR1;R182IV,p329). In 1881 Redon had a one man show with drawings (and lithographs) at ‘La Vie Moderne‘ (R1,p500;aR1;R3;R8,p218;R182IV,p329) and a year later at ‘Le Gaulois’ showing 20 charcoal drawings and engravings (R182IV,p329). He received positive criticism for the ‘majestic, delicate, subtle, perverse and seraphical’ elements in his work from Hennequin and Huysmans (R1,p501;aR1).
Before and after Redon exhibited at the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886↑, he exhibited at other independant group expositions. 1884/05/15 Redon exhibited at the exposition des Artistes Indépendants (R39,p41;R182IV,p329). In June he was co-founder of the ‘Société des Artistes Indépendants’ and became the first chairman (R5,p140;R39,p41;R1,p508;R3). He would exhibit at the first 3 exhibitions of the forthcoming Salon des Indépendants and posthumous again in 1926 (R182IV,p329vv).
Redon would also exhibit with independant group exhibitions in Brussels. In 1886, 1887 and 1890 at the exhibitions of Les Vingts and in 1894, 1895, 1901 and 1909 at the exhibitions it’s the successor La Libre Esthétique.
Redon often exhibited at the Durand-Ruel Gallery. There were several larger solo exhibitions held in 1894, 1900, 1903 and 1906. Redon also participated at the Expositions de peintre-graveurs yearly from 1889 – 1893 organised by Durand-Ruel.
In 1900 Redon was present with one work at the Exposition Universelle.
Redon also exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1904 + 05 +06. In 1904 he was honoured with a room in which he exhibited 64 works.
In 1913 Redon took part at the ‘Armory Show‘ in the USA.
In 1917, 1920, 1923 and 1926 there were large retrospectives held in Paris.
See link for an impression of his exhibited pictures at other exhibitions. See link for an account.

Odilon Redon as an artist:
In 1855 Redon was a pupil of Stanislas Gorin in Bordeaux (aR1;R55;R298). Redon was rejected in 1862 for the École des Beaux-Arts (R88II,p1009); in 1864 (or: 1863) he visited the studio of Gérôme for a short while; Redon was called his pupil (iR1;R16;R14;R1,p73;R55;R13;iR3;R298). 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 1863-65: Rodolphe Bresdin taught him the art of etching (R55;iR3;R13;R16;R1,p414;R298). Some sources write that Redon was introduced in the technique of lithography by Henri-Fantin Latour (R13;aR1). Redon was inspired by Daumier, Goya, Jean-François Millet, Rouault (R14), Gustave Moreau (iR24) and the clair-obscure of Rembrandt (aR1). I wonder if he knew the works of Hieronymus Bosch (iR3). Redon admired Delacroix (R3;R1,p89). He had acquaintance with Corot, Courbet (R3). Corot taught him: ‘Go to the same place every year, copy the same tree.’ (R1,p101). In his earlier years, Redon made several landscapes in the manner of Corot, Chintreuil and Cazin (R55).
For about two decades Redon only makes (copper) etchings and black and white drawings (R14,p234;R3; House mentions he did so after 1879, which doesn’t seem correct (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). Redon published several albums with lithographs. In 1879 he published his first album titled ‘Dans le Rêve’ (In the dream), in 1882 ‘à Edgar Poe’, in 1883 he published ‘Origins’ including 8 lithographs, in 1885 ‘Hommage à Goya, in 1886 ‘La Nuit’, in 1887 ‘Le Juré’ and in 1892 ‘Songes’ (R182;M5a;iR3;aR1;R298,p177vv). Redon also made book illustrations for books of Edgar Allen Poe (1882)  (aR1;R14). Redon also made lithographs / book illustrations for Edmond Picard (1887), Flaubert (1888+89+96), Bulwer-Lyton (1896) and Mallarmé (1897-1900) (aR1). Redon stopped making his ‘noirs’ after 1900 (iR3).

Around 1890 a closer friendship developed with Gauguin (R3;aR1;R74), who had rejected his impressionist ideals in 1888 (R6,p196). They had met in 1886 and corresponded since 1889 (R289,p186). Around 1890 Redon also was inspired by Vuillard and Bonnard (aR1). Redon is seen as one of the most important Symbolists (R14) or as a forerunner. He wrote (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). In his works Redon expressed a world of phantasy and dreams and rendered 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). From 1908-14 he made many works depicting mythological goddesses like Venus, Andromeda and Pandora (R14,p236).
Redon also maked many still-lifes depicting flowers (R14); in these flowers he tried to render the superficial beauty of these natural objects (R55). His earlier still lives with flowers were being executed in a sombre tonality (R55).
Around 1890 Redon started to paint and to use colour (R14;R16;R74); especially in his pastels (R298); it was only around 1895 that his works became highly coloured (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).
Some sources state that Redon was also part of Les Nabis (aR1), but probably this was not right; Les Nabis admired him, there were contacts and they held in 1899 an exhibition honouring him (R74,p365). Some sources state that Redon started to work in a symbolistic style in 1891 (R3), but when we look at the themes he depicted earlier, I think he started to do so, much earlier.

Signac (1895+99) admired Redon his work, a drawing for ’the superb quality of the blacks and whites, (and) their perfect 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 (R6,p269;R74). Redon was a teacher of Gustave Fayet (iR24) and inspired the Surrealists (R74). Maybe with his series of closed eyes he also inspired Jawlensky (iR3).
Following the Catalogue Raisonné of Wildenstein I now will summarise the sort of works that Redon depicted. He depicted portraits, heads (got off, in profile or with eyes closed), figure paintings (in landscapes), religious figures (Christ, virgin Marie, saints, the Buddha). (R182I). Redon depicted mythical figures (like Venus, Apollon, Phaéton and Orphée), fairy tales (like Ophélie, the winged man, Pégase), the fantistic (like nightmares and phantoms), monsters (like Gnomes and centaure) and the world of dreams (R182II). Redon also depicted many flower still-lifes, trees, (deserted) roads, windmills, marines, (mythical) boats and (deserted) landscapes (R182III). Redon also made many studies (including 5 drawing / sketch books), copies of masters and decorative panels (R182IV). In 1899 Redon made 17 decorative panels, now 15 of them are in Musée d’Orsay (iR3).

Odilon Redon rejected Impressionism:
In 1868 Redon reviewed the Salon (R1,p188). He wroted: ‘We are witnessing the end of an old school.’ About Daubigny he wrote: ‘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 criticized Manet and others ’to limit themselves to the literal reproduction of reality…’. About Pissarro he wrote, that he expressed more vividly the general impression, with a very rudimentary technique. ‘The colour is somewhat dull…’. Redon also praised Corot and Courbet, but neglected Bazille, Degas, Morisot, Renoir and Sisley. (R1,p188;R8,p142;R13) He then also wrote: ‘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 opposed Realism and stated ’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 wrote about the decline of Morisot’s exquisite talent and his being impressed by Degas. He described Impressionism as 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 judged 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). But 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) or even in 1870 (R298)
  • 1870: Redon lived at 41, rue Monsieur-le-Prince, Paris (iR1), close to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement (iR9).
  • 1878: Redon painted in Holland (iR24)
  • 1878-86?: Redon lived at 76, rue de Rennes, Paris (iR1;R2,p445), also in the 6th arrondissement (iR9)
  • 1880/05/01: married Camille Falte (R82I,p11;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 wrote: ‘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;R298)
  • 1889/04/30: birth of his son Arï (aR1;R298)
  • before 1891: 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).
  • 1892: Redon is mentioned as partaker of the 1st Salon de la Rose+Croix, but there are no tittles rendered (iR1;iR40;R256)
  • 1897: looses the family property Peyrelabade in the Médoc (R298)
  • 1903: Redon was awarded the Legion d’Honneur (iR3)
  • 1904/10/15 – 11/15: at the Salon d’Automne there was a room dedicated to Odillon Redon, showing 11 paintings, 15 drawings, 20 pastels and 18 lithographes (aR6=iR189=R182IV,p333).
  • 1907/03/11: auction of his works at Hôtel Drouot, including 26 paintings, 24 pastel, 2 sanguine drawings and 1 watercolour (aR1;R182IV,p425)
  • 1909-16: lives a withdrawn live in Bièvres, south of Paris (R3)
  • 1913/02/18 – 05/19: Redon took part in the International Exhibition of Modern Art, a travelling exhibition held in New York, Chicago and Boston. Each exhibition counted about 40 catalogue numbers (aR6=iR189=R182IV,p336).
  • 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 Wildenstein, Alec and others: Odilon Redon, catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint et dessiné. 4 Vol. Paris, 1992-98 (=aR2-6=iR189=R182), 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), Ebbinge Wubben (1975=R298,p177), 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).

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; no.1-729)
  3. (online publication of volume II ‘Mythes and Légendes’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1994=R182=iR189; no.730-1332)
  4. (online publication of volume III ‘Fleurs et Paysages’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1996=R182=iR189; no.1333-1959)
  5. (online publication of volume IV ‘Études, décorations et suplement’ of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1998;=R182;=iR189; no.1960-2657)
  6. (online publication of volume IV (=aR5) of the Catalogue Raisonné on Redon by Alec Wildenstein, 1998, with direct link to the overview of works exhibited, biography and register;=R182;=iR189)
  7. “Odilon Redon.” In Database of Modern Exhibitions (DoME). European Paintings and Drawings 1905-1915. Last modified Mar 3, 2021.  =iR261; overview of contributions of Redon in exhibitions and auctions from 1905-1915
  8. (pdf on an exhibition held in 2016/17; =M11)
  9. (overview of many paintings and drawings by Redon; =iR94)
  10. (blogspot on Redon with many large pictures)
  11. (images, namely engravings of Redon; iR40)


Recommanded citation: “Impressionism: Odilon Redon (1840-1916), a Symbolist partaking in the last ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1886. Last modified 2024/01/30.