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The Symbolist -pg 2                                            

Part II: Life and influences

“Oh! My biography is not at all difficult; I have never been anywhere. The events that left their mark on me happened, in days gone by, in my head.”        Odilon Redon, 1894[17]

When he was a young man, Odilon Redon’s father, Bertrand, left his family and his country to make something of himself.  He soon arrived in New Orleans, alone and without any money.[18]  Bertrand eventually made his fortune in the slave and lumber industries.[19]  When he returned to France, he traveled to Bordeaux, located in a region southwest of Paris.[20]  It was in Bordeaux that Bertrand lived with his new Louisiana-born bride, Marie Guérin.[21]  On April 20, 1840 a son was born to Bertrand and Marie.[22]  The couple named their son Bertrand Jean after his father, but he soon chose to be called Odilon, after his mother, who was fondly known as Odile.[23]  According to Odilon Redon, his father, Bertrand, was “stern” and “intimidating” and his mother was “frivolous.”[24]

The young Redon was sickly, suffered from epilepsy, and despised strenuous, physical activities.  He was quoted saying, “I lived only within myself…with a loathing for any physical effort.”[25]  Due to Redon’s poor health, it was decided that he should live with his Uncle at the family estate, Peyrelebade, northwest of Bordeaux.[26]  Redon was separated from his immediate family and lived at Peyrelebade until the age of 11 when he returned to Bordeaux to go to boarding school.[27]  As an adult, Redon stated that, although Peyrelebade was a secluded estate with “vast skies and vineyards” and his time spent there was one of isolation, the memories of this time in his life had a special place in his heart.[28]   Throughout his youth, Redon preferred to be alone and in a quiet place where he could be engrossed in his thoughts; he delighted in using his imagination, and often lay on the ground, searching for mysterious creatures within the cloud formations in the sky.[29]  Even at this early age, Redon was mesmerized by the dark, the fantastical, the mysterious and the unknown:  “As a child I sought out the shadows,” He once commented, “I remember taking a deep and unusual joy in hiding under the big curtains and in the dark corners of the house.”[30]  Redon also spent more time with local workers and peasants than he did with his own family and it was from these common people that he learned of struggle and poverty as well as local legend and lore.[31] 

When he returned to Bordeaux to go to boarding school, Redon found himself incredibly unhappy.[32]   He hated school and continued to feel isolated from others.  When he was fifteen, he studied drawing with Stanislas Gorin, a local artist who introduced him to the works of Delacroix.[33]  For a short time, Redon studied under painter Jean Gérôme.[34]  Unfortunately, Gérôme was a traditionalist and treated him with “merciless hostility.”[35]  Later, when Redon submitted work to la Société des Amis des Arts and received little recognition, it was his former teacher, Gorin, who advised him to go to Paris and create an identity for himself.  It would be a year, however, before Redon would go to Paris, and he would not go on the advice of Gorin, but on the insistence of his father, who wanted him to study architecture.[36]

Redon was twenty when he went to Paris to study architecture in 1860.  Though he failed his architectural exams, Redon felt very strongly that the study of architecture aided him as an artist.[37] Although he was never an architect in the traditional sense, perhaps his father would take comfort in that fact the his son would later be referred to as “the architect of the imagination.”[38] 
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Important! Footnotes:

[17] Richard Hobbs,  Odilon Redon  (Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1977) 171.
Douglas W. Druick, Gloria Groom, Fred Leeman, Kevin Sharp, MaryAnne Stevens, Harriet K Stratis, Peter Kort Zegers,  Odilon Redon: Prince of Dreams  (Harry Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1994)  16.
Ibid. 17.
Ibid. 16.
Hobbs, Redon, 10.
Ibid. 10.
Klaus Berger,  Odilon Redon: Fantasy and Color  (Germany: Verlag M. DuMont
Schauberg, 1964) 169.

Hobbs, Redon, 10.
Druick, Prince of Dreams, 30.
Jodi Hauptman,  Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon  (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2005) 27.
Druick, Prince of Dreams, 29.
Berger, Fantasy and Color, 169.
Hobbs, Redon. 11.
Gibson, Symbolists, 34.
Druick, Prince of Dreams, 35-37.
Hobbs, Redon, 11.
John Haber. “Haber’s Art Reviews: The Artist’s Book and Odilon Redon.”  November 24, 2007.

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