Odilon Redon, the artist who at the age 73 outsold all but Marcel Duchamp at the 1913 Armory Show of “Modern French Art” in New York City.

Redon, who died three years later, also exhibited more works than any other artist at that famous show, including Matisse, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Picasso, Monet and Renoir. He had 38 paintings and pastels, 29 lithographs and seven etchings on exhibit there, also is believed to have shown some drawings.

Graphic Work

Redon whose vision found its fullest realisation in his graphic work, was born in a time when art and literature were at their zenith in 19th century France.  His circle in Paris as an adult included outstanding artistic and literary figures of the century.  Redon insisted on the “right to fantasy.”   His etchings have for the most part a haunting, mystic quality of great intensity.

Hantise (Obsession) by Odilon Redon 1894
Hantise (Obsession) by Odilon Redon 1894

 

Helmelse kunst by Odilon Redon 1894
Helmelse kunst by Odilon Redon 1894

 

To redon, the mystery of nature and life was not beclouded in vagueness.  Claude Roger Marx, in his essay, makes clear this point: “For Redon, the mystery lies in reality. It is necessary to insist upon this point, and this explains why we should always have present before our minds, as he always had them present, the pink shell, the saffron-coloured butterfly or the bundle of poppies.”

Butterflies by Odilon Redon 1910
Butterflies by Odilon Redon 1910

 

Background

He was born in 1840, the year before Cezanne, and died 10 years after him.  Monet was born in the same year as Redon, Renoir a year later. He studied in Paris under Gérôme. Then his friend Fantin-Latour taught him the art of lithography. However, he was most influenced by Rodolphe Bresdin, an older artist who had created a world of fantastic imagery.  Redon studied with him almost daily for several years and devoted himself to etchings and lithographs for almost 15 years, more than once paying great tribute to his teacher.

After 60, Redon gained renown he found embarrassing, for he was so unpretentious and straightforward by nature that it was difficult for him to think of his work in monetary terms.  He disliked placing an absolute value on a painting.

The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon 1905-16
The Chariot of Apollo by Odilon Redon 1905-16

 

Etruscan Vase with Flowers by Odilon Redon 1900-1910
Etruscan Vase with Flowers by Odilon Redon 1900-1910

 

Redon observed flowers, birds and butterflies as slightly mystical manifestations of Nature.  In Etruscan with a Vase, the simplicity of the petals, the atmosphere enveloping the bunch of flowers in an Etruscan vase, he painted with all the devotion he gave to the glorification of flowers.

Redon although a great visionary of French Modern Art always stood slightly outside, away from or beyond contemporary art movements. A curator of his work said,  “he must always stand alone.  He lived and worked in his time, enriched it by his works, but he was never of his time and hence the value of his unique personal vision.”

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