Odilon Redon, Noirs to Flowers

Odilon Redon, 1840-1916, The Potted Geranium, c.1865, Oil on Canvas (On display as part of Object As Subject, Main Gallery, August 26, 2105 – May 27, 2016)

During the time of the Impressionists, Odilon Redon, a French symbolist, spent most of his career expressing the dark visions of his imagination with black-and-white lithographs; though, later in his life he blossomed with oil paintings flowers which were heavily embraced by the public and won him fame and admiration.

Redon was born in Bordeaux in 1840 to an aristocratic family. His full name being Betrand-Jean Redon, he was nicknamed “Odilon” from his mother, Odile. He started studying art formally at the age fifteen. His father pushed him to pursue architecture, but he failed to pass his architectural entrance exams at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and so he returned to Bordeaux and studying his beloved arts.

After serving in the Franco-Prussian War from 1870 -1871, Redon moved to Paris and dedicated himself to what he called his “noirs”, extensive black-and white works of charcoal and lithography. His first album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, was published in 1879. His first big breakthrough was his appearance in an avant-garde novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans titled À Rebours (Against Nature). He went on to create many lithographic series such as Homage to Goya, The Night, and The Temptation of St. Anthony.

Redon worked almost exclusively in black and white until the age of 50, at which time he took a dramatic turn to color. He chose pastels and oil as his medium and turned away from his macabre monochromatic visions. He broadened his designs for the use of murals, portraits, and tapestries. In 1900 he focused on a series of flower studies for which he become well known and well represented at the Armory Show of 1913. He died in Paris on July 6, 1916.

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