Odilon Redon was born Bertrand Redon in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, to a prosperous family. The young Bertrand acquired the nickname “Odilon” from his mother, Odile, a French Creole woman.
Redon started drawing as a child; at the age of ten, he was awarded a drawing prize at school. He began the formal study of drawing at fifteen but, at his father’s insistence, he changed to architecture. Failure to pass the entrance exams at Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts ended any plans for a career as an architect, although he briefly studied painting there under Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1864.
Back in his native Bordeaux, he took up sculpting, and Rodolphe Bresdin instructed him in etching and lithography. His artistic career was interrupted in 1870 when he was drafted to serve in the French army in the Franco-Prussian War until its end in 1871.
At the end of the war, he moved to Paris and resumed working almost exclusively in charcoal and lithography. He called his visionary works, conceived in shades of black, his “noirs”. It was not until 1878 that his work gained any recognition with Guardian Spirit of the Waters; he published his first album of lithographs, titled Dans le Rêve, in 1879. Still, Redon remained relatively unknown until the appearance in 1884 of a cult novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans titled À rebours (Against Nature). The story featured a decadent aristocrat who collected Redon’s drawings.
In the 1890s pastel and oils became his favored media; he produced no more noirs after 1900. In 1899, he exhibited with the Nabis at Durand-Ruel’s.
Redon had a keen interest in Hindu and Buddhist religion and culture. The figure of the Buddha increasingly showed in his work.
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