Bertrand-Jean Redon (1840-1916), Better known as Odilon Redon was a French Symbolist artist who resided mainly in Paris. He used paint, pastils and charcoal as well as print making to create his work.
He showed early promise as a draftsman being awarded a prize for drawing as a child. On the instruction of his father he turned his attentions to architecture. However, failing the entrance exam to Ecole des Beaux-arts in Paris put an end to any endeavours in this direction.
In his early twenties he studied painting briefly with Jean-Leon Gerome, a painter and sculptor from the school of Academicism. Redon himself also took up sculpture and received some training in etching and lithography from his contemporary and friend Rodolphe Bresdin. Bresdin specialised in engraving. His art works, like Redon, are fantastical in nature.
In 1870 Redon’s art career was interrupted whilst he fought in the Franco-Prussian War.
It was at the end of this war, whilst living in Paris, he produced a series of gothic, surreal caracole drawings and some lithographs of a similar style. He referred to these works as his Noires.
They are of dark imaged themes such a head on a plinth with spikes sticking out of it entitled ‘Cactus Man’ (1881), The head of a man on a spiders body titled ‘ The Crying Spider’ (1881) and ‘The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity’, (1882). This one shows a giant eye hot air balloon holding what looks like a 1960’s flying saucer in the sky. (http://www.googleartproject.com/artist/odilon-redon/4126003/) (04.03.13)
Perhaps the disturbed imagery depicted by Redon in the Noires is a response to the atrocities he saw in the war.
These charcoal sketches have all the hallmarks of French Symbolist art. Favouring Imagination, spirituality and dreams to influence there work. Symbolist artist of this era where tired of the rules of Realism and Naturalism. Movements concerned with showing real life subjects in a truthful manner. As a reaction to this the Symbolist artist strove for the purely imagined.
The Symbolist Manifesto states ‘ Art should represent absolute truths that can only be described indirectly.’ La Symbolisme by Jean Moreas (1886)
For Rendon himself dreams seem to play the largest role in the drawings and paintings he created through out his life time.
In all his early charcoal works he uses light and dark to describe form. Because of the very black nature of charcoal the shadow areas are very dark. He then leaves some areas uncovered by the charcoal which creates the light in the drawings. He smudges or makes linear marks in between to make a grey value. The resulting images are striking and strange and have a illustrative quality.
You can see the progression of his work though the numerous lithographs he created through out his working life. Lithograph offers a strong graphic contrast from black to white as does charcoal. Although his continued to use the imagination in his work, Redon also produced many studies of real objects such a s trees and flowers as he aged the intent to use light and shadow in his work is always apparent.
Redon was a prolific Lithograph artists for decades. It was only in 1890 he started to expand the ideas born from the Noires into colour works. Many of these were oil paintings, he also used soft pastilles.
He has a light style using the colour media. he seems to barley cover the canvases in a lot of his work.
He painted a lot of flower studies. Compositionally They have the subject centre stage with no recognisable back drop. Only mottled complementary colour with the vase and flowers suspended in it. His bush and pastel marks are fleeting. The flowers are suggested, not reproduced in life like detail.
All of his paintings and pastel drawings have an ethereal quality. They are as dream like as his noires are nightmarish. The optimism apparent in these later colour works could be as a result of the happiness bought to his life by his second son Ari. His first son tragically died in infancy.
Redon’s work never generated much public interest in his life time. Instead it was appreciated by artist and and collectors. He is said to have influenced the Fauvist artist such as Mattise.
After his death his family published a collection of his diaries, reviews and privet reflections. This volume shows his skill with words as well as drawings.