Odilon Redon’s art is the kind of mystical haze of colour and composition that you would find in the corner of your consciousness as you emerge from sleep. I love his art because of this reason, it hints at hidden worlds of emotion and depth that are located deep within us all.
Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was a French symbolist painter. His work can be linked to the poetry of Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe, and the music of Claude Debussy in terms of symbolism.
His work evokes all of the bizarre fantasies and half realised ideas from the subconscious that lurk behind our daily lives. He wanted to evoke this sense of mystery and his work definitely achieves this.
“I have placed there a little door opening on to the mysterious. I have made stories”. Odilon Redon
In a note of 1887, Redon lists three sources from which art can be created – tradition, the legacy of art, containing ‘the entire thinking and moral life of humanity’, reality or nature, ‘outside of which our own ambition to create remains in a state of dream, of abstraction’, and personal invention, ‘the original intuition that combines and summarises everything, seeking support in the past and in the present in order to give to the contemporary world a new organisation’.
He was born in Bordeaux in 1840 and then moved to Paris in 1870. He had a solitary childhood and expressed the view that society wanted to control natural phenomena, and in the process suppressed its dreams.
Redon produced dream-like and bizarre images of monsters and figures. His monsters refused to be categorised as their beautiful or grotesque, human or non-human but rather somewhere in between. Just like Poe’s psychopaths, Redon’s creatures, both attractive and repellent came to suggest a new and disturbing way of viewing the self and the unfamiliar aspects of the psyche.
He spent most of his career drawing in charcoal, abandoning this for his better known vivid pastels at 60 years old. He created radiant flower scenes and mythological tributes. The Chariot of Apollo was one of his favourite themes. He worked tirelessly to conjure up natural beauty and dreamy subconscious memories.
“Painting depends on a gift of delicious sensuality, which can with a little of the most simple liquid substance reconstitute or amplify life, leave its imprint on a surface, from which will emerge a human presence, the supreme irradiation of the spirit”.
Odilon Redon, 1903.
During his career he created 30 etchings and 170 lithographs. His most well known are the Homage to Goya (1885), The Temptation of St Anthony (1896) and The Apocalypse of Saint John (1889).
He is one of the most fascinating and enduringly timeless artists of the 19th Century.