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Odilon Redon


Mary is an art lover who has an emotional response to paintings, especially in person, and can sometimes be found tearing up in a museum


Odilon Redon: French Symbolist Painter, 1840-1916

I'm embarrassed to say I've forgotten most of the details. Paris in my mid-20s. A smallish, lovely museum exhibiting the work of Odilon Redon. Was it the Orangerie? Jeu de Paume? I remember the friends I was with, I remember the chilly gray day, but most of all I remember a painting that almost knocked the breath out of me...

(Flower Clouds, 1903, public domain)


Beatrice, 1885

Photos don't do this painting justice. In person it's luminous, almost glowing--beatific, really. For someone like me who responds intensely to color, the use of color alone was like a religious experience :) Happily, I repeated the experience with painting after painting that day in Paris, and later at a Redon exhibit back home in Chicago.

What Was the Symbolist Movement?

Symbolism was a late-19th-century art movement of French and Belgian origin in poetry (namely Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, or The Flowers of Evil) and other arts, including painting. Rejecting the rationalism and materialism that had come to dominate Western European culture, Symbolism stressed strong emotions as a source of aesthetic experience.

Symbolist poetry is better known than painting, through renowned poets like Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud, along with Baudelaire. In the world of painting, arguably the two other biggest names besides Redon were fellow Frenchmen Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

From Wikipedia:

"Symbolism was largely a reaction against naturalism and realism, anti-idealistic movements which attempted to capture reality in its gritty particularity, and to elevate the humble and the ordinary over the ideal."

Spirituality, dreams, and the imagination were favorite themes of Symbolist artists, including Redon.

"I am certain about what I will never do--but not about what my art will render."

"My originality consists in putting the logic of the visible to the service of the invisible."

Redon's Background and Impact

Redon's given name was Bertrand Jean Redon. His nickname, Odilon, came from his mother's name, Odile. (She was French Creole, and he was born in New Orleans -- how cool is that? -- before being raised by his uncle in the Medoc region of France, reportedly for health reasons.) As an adult, he recalled being a "sad and weak child" who loved to watch clouds changing shape.

This amazing artist influenced...

Henri Matisse and the Fauves, who were inspired by his use of color. (The Fauves--French for "wild beasts"--were a small group of artists who shocked critics with a wild, vibrant style using short strokes of vivid color.)

The Surrealist movement that began in the 1920s and included Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, and Max Ernst. (In the 1870s and '80s, before he "found color," Redon's work often included haunting images of floating eyes and heads, which may have especially inspired the Surrealists.)

Symbolists like Redon also influenced the Art Nouveau movement, with its far-reaching influences into architecture and jewelry as well as fine art, and Les Nabis -- an influential group of post-Impressionist artists, including Pierre Bonnard, who worked and exhibited together between 1888 and 1900.

"It is precisely from the regret left by the imperfect work that the next one can be born."

What do you think of Redon?

Redon Art Books and Prints

Alas, there aren't as many art-book speciality shops as in the olden days. But Amazon actually has a decent selection, representing works ranging from the creepy, Poe-influenced style of Redon's earlier drawings to his jewel-like floral beauties. Try to get your hands on a copy of the Art Institute of Chicago's gorgeous catalog from its 1994 exhibit, Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams, which is stunning. (As of September 2021, Abe Books has a few used copies on offer, in good condition.)

"While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality...true art lies in a

reality that is felt."

Redon Links

  • MOMA Redon Exhibit
    New York's Museum of Metropolitan Art showcased Redon's work in "Beyond the Visible," October '05 to November '06, and created a matching online gallery. It groups works into 3 themes--Monsters, Tales, and Metamorphosis--and presents them beautifully
  • Redon's Wikipedia entry
    Biographical details & analysis of his work
  • Sampling of Redon paintings
    40+ works, nicely presented

Thanks for letting me share one of my fave painters with you. Are you a fan as well? Or just hearing about this genius? Any thoughts much appreciated! Please don't hesitate to recommend painters you think I would also love!


Mary (author) from Chicago area on June 13, 2012:

@MarjorieWard: this comment made me so happy -- thanks!

MarjorieWard on June 13, 2012:

I had never heard of him until a few months ago when I was assigned a paper in Art History... Wow! I can't believe he's not more well-known. I agree his work is literally breathtaking. Will forever be my favorite artist.

Mary (author) from Chicago area on February 13, 2011:

@mariatjader: no, it was much smaller than d'Orsay -- although I agree it is a wonderful place! this was a temporary exhibit somewhere. thank you so so much for the blessing!!

mariatjader on February 13, 2011:

I think you may have been at the Musée d'Orsay, they have a fantastic Redon collection there. Your lens brought back some lovely memories, for me as well the first encounter with these works took place in similar circumstances..

Great lens about a more obscure artist & squid angel blessed*

anonymous on September 07, 2010:

I particularly love Redons black and white drawings

I personally think he was a surrealist whom was way ahead of the curb

hlkljgk from Western Mass on October 28, 2009:

thank you for introducing me to a new artist.

oztoo lm on September 27, 2009:

I also had not heard of this artist but I really like his work. Great Lens

clouda9 lm on September 26, 2009:

I love learning new things - today I accomplished that by visiting your lens. Beautiful art!

myraggededge on September 25, 2009:

Great lens and a nice intro to the artist's work. Thank you!

Leanne Chesser on September 22, 2009:

This is the first time I've heard of this artist . . . but great stuff!

Lynne Schroeder from Blue Mountains Australia on September 22, 2009:

I hadn't heard of this painter before. Beautiful! Thankyou

Cheryl Kohan from England on September 22, 2009:

Chariot of Apollo and Pandora are my faves. I am an art lover, too. But I was unfamiliar with Odilon Redon until now. Thanks for bringing this wonderful artist to my attention!

lakern26 lm on September 22, 2009:

Wonderful lens! I really enjoyed learning about this painter. Thanks so much for the introduction! 5*

kimmanleyort on September 22, 2009:

Really interesting! I had not heard of him but love this work. The still life's especially.

Sandy Mertens from Frozen Tundra on September 21, 2009:

Very nice!

anonymous on September 21, 2009:

Very interesting art!

Treasures By Brenda from Canada on September 21, 2009:

Beautifully done & blessed.

bdkz on September 21, 2009:


Barbara Radisavljevic from Paso Robles, CA on September 21, 2009:

Great work. The paintings are lovely. 5 stars.

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on September 21, 2009:

Love your Gibran quote too! lensrolled, faved...

Heather Burns from Wexford, Ireland on September 21, 2009:

Wonderful and beautiful! 5*****

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on September 21, 2009:

Gorgeous lens. Blessed by an angel. : )

Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on September 21, 2009:

Excellent Lens! Thanks for introducing me to Odilon Redon.

anonymous on September 21, 2009:

Great lens! I have never heard of Redon before, his art is gorgeous! I love his use of color :)

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