Special Saturday Hours, May 20, 11 - 5
Odilon Redon was a uniquely creative artist whose personal psychological voyage is made starkly visible in the images he created. Born into a wealthy Bordeaux family in 1840 but suffering with illnesses that kept him in isolation throughout his youth, Redon developed an early affinity for the fantastic and the macabre through the literature of Flaubert, Baudelaire and Edgar Allen Poe. Trained in the visual arts by the academic painter J. L. Gérome and the eccentric lithographic genius Rodolphe Bresdin, Redon began his career working in black and white, producing large charcoal drawings called Noirs depicting fantastic images that were eerie, poignant and emotionally charged. A female face seen in profile is frozen in a silent scream; a male head is dangling from the stem of a sinuous swamp flower; and a naturalistic landscape of entwined trees (inspired by similar compositions by J.B.C. Corot, whom Redon admired) becomes imbued with eerie nuance.
By the 1880’s, the original imagery and the masterful technique of these drawings brought Redon recognition from critics and artists, and in 1884, Joris-Karl Huysmans’s novel À rebours (Against Nature), so important in defining the Symbolist aesthetic, described a decadent aristocrat who collected Redon drawings.
With this success, Redon’s life started to turn. He married and had a son, finding new personal happiness and his lifelong depression began to lift. He began to work in color using both oil and pastel, enlivening the landscapes he had previously depicted with blue skies and green seas, or making still lifes with flowers and butterflies that included female portraits, allowing the then popular impressionist palette to enhance his imagery. Much like the earlier Noirs, Astral Head (1905) and The Birth of Venus (1910) still depict imaginary subjects, but are now vibrantly colored in yellow, blue, red and green.