Ophelia, around 1900-05

Odilon Redon French master of surreal mysticism

Odilon Redon Apollo's solar chariot drawn by four horses, 1905
Apollo’s solar chariot drawn by four horses, 1905

Odilon Redon was a French painter and graphic artist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Odilon Redon a contemporary of impressionism and realism opposed himself to these directions, depicting the world around him through the prism of mysticism and the subconscious. The artist, who is called one of the founders of Symbolism, abandoned the comfortable and familiar academicism and worked in a manner close to Surrealism, Expressionism and Dadaism. Redon’s work is clearly divided into two periods black (graphics and works made with charcoal) and color (works written in pastel and oil).

Odilon Redon Bouquet of flowers
Bouquet of flowers


Odilon Redon was born on April 20, 1840 in a wealthy family of landowner and entrepreneur Bertrand Redon in the Aquitaine city of Bordeaux. The middle son at birth was named Bertrand Jean Redon, but over time the affectionate name Odilon, derived from the name of his mother, Marie-Odile Guéran, was attached to him. Odilon Redon was a sickly child, and until the age of 11, his parents left the boy in the care of an uncle and a wet nurse on the Peyrelbad family estate. On warm days, he walked alone around the neighborhood and watched the sky, looking for outlines of outlandish creatures in the clouds. It was at this time that an interest in unknown natural phenomena arose in the child, which later transformed into a passion for surrealism and mysticism.

Odilon Redon Cyclops, circa 1914
Cyclops, circa 1914

Odilon Redon became acquainted with painting at the age of seven during a trip to Paris, where he visited art galleries and was impressed by some of the dramatic canvases. The boy became interested in drawing and at the age of ten he received his first award at school. But the study did not bring him much joy, rather the opposite in the classroom, Odilon constantly experienced deep sadness.

Odilon Redon Eye-Balloon, 1878
Eye-Balloon, 1878

Everything changed when Odilon Redon enrolled as an apprentice to Stanislas Gorin

He taught the young man the basics of watercolor techniques and introduced him to the work of Camille Corot, Gustave Moreau and Eugène Delacroix. The second most important teacher for Redon was Armand Clavaud, the caretaker of the Botanical Garden of Bordeaux. A passionate reader and admirer of Shakespeare, Armand had a significant influence on the literary and artistic tastes of the young Redon, revealed to him the secrets of natural science and Darwin’s theory.

Odilon Redon Eyes closed, 1890
Eyes closed, 1890

Odilon Redon left for Paris in 1862 as a fully formed personality, clearly aware of what he wanted to achieve. Obeying his father’s wishes, he tried to pass the exams for an architecture course at an art school, but to no avail. During the year he attended classes in architecture studios and took lessons in academic painting, improved his technique and realized that he did not want to create in the classical manner.

Odilon Redon returned to Bordeaux, where in 1863 he met the third important person in his life Rodolphe Bresdin.

A new friend pushed Redon to graphics and lithography and to create phantasmagoric drawings. In 1865, friends produced a series of 12 prints.

In 1870, unexpectedly for those around him, Odilon Redon volunteered for the Franco-Prussian War, where he proved himself to be a brave soldier. Returning to a peaceful life, he paints “noirs” black pictures with charcoal, and claims that with an attentive and respectful attitude to the black color, the artist will be able to more clearly convey the spirituality of any plot. One of the series of noir drawings, entitled “The Dream”, was dedicated by Odilon to his old friend Armand Clavaud.

Odilon Redon Flowers in a turquoise vase
Flowers in a turquoise vase
In 1880, at the age of 50, Odilon Redon married and radically changed his painting style.

For the first time, the artist took up colored pastels during his honeymoon and from the bright and sunny works one can understand how happy he was in marriage. He was really lucky with his wife. Camille Folt became a wife, friend and partner. She negotiates with dealers and the press, and he paints her portraits. Redon completely switched to color painting, abandoning coal and graphics. He borrows plots for paintings from Buddhism, Christianity, Greco-Roman mythology and Shakespeare.

Ophelia, around 1900-05
Ophelia, around 1900-05

Real recognition came to the artist shortly before his death. In 1903, Odilon Redon was ordained a knight of the Order of the Legion of Honor, in 1904, at the Autumn Art Salon, a whole hall was allocated to demonstrate his work, and in 1913 the painter was invited to an arsenal exhibition in New York. But then the First World War began. Worries about the fate of his only son undermined the artist’s already precarious health. Odilon Redon passed away on July 6, 1916, leaving unfinished work “The Virgin”.

The most famous paintings by Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon’s paintings are kept in famous museums of the world, art galleries and private collections. The most famous and valuable works of the artist:

  1. The Raven (1882), an engraving from the Edgar Poe series, is in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.
  2. Parsifal (1891) is an engraving on the theme of Wagner’s opera of the same name. Redon was an admirer of the composer, admired the master’s ability to combine mythological history and music in one work.
  3. Eyes Closed (1890) is one of the very first colored works by the master.
  4. “Buddha” (1905) a work done in colored pastels, shows the artist’s interest in Indian poetry and Buddhism.
  5. The Birth of Venus (1912) is one of three versions of the work as interpreted by Odilon Redon.
Perseus and Andromeda
Perseus and Andromeda
Red boat with sail, 1906-07
Red boat with sail, 1906-07
Smiling spider
Smiling spider
In honor of Goya
In honor of Goya