Ophelia by Odilon Redon
c. 1900-05; Pastel on paper mounted on board, 19 7/8 x 26 1/2 in; The Woodner Collection
About the Art
“The depiction of Ophelia seems not at all tragic, but rather an idyllic scene of a naked bather in a limpid pool of flowers. The design and colour scheme is masterly and original, being merely suggestive of the tragedy of death after rejection and madness.” – Tony Thomas
About the Artist
Odilon Redon was born in Bordeaux, Aquitaine, to a prosperous family. The young Bertrand-Jean Redon acquired the nickname “Odilon” from his mother, Odile. Redon started drawing as a child, and at the age of ten he was awarded a drawing prize at school. Aged fifteen, he began the formal study of drawing, but on the insistence of his father he changed to architecture. His 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. (His younger brother Gaston Redon would become a noted architect.)
Back home in his native Bordeaux, he took up sculpture, and Rodolphe Bresdin instructed him in etching and lithography. His artistic career was interrupted in 1870 when he joined the army to serve in the Franco-Prussian War.
At the end of the war, he moved to Paris, working almost exclusively in charcoal and lithography. He called his visionary works, conceived in shades of black, his noirs. It would not be until 1878 that his work gained any recognition with Guardian Spirit of the Waters, and 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 Huysmanstitled, 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, and he produced no more noirs after 1900. In 1899, he exhibited with the Nabis at Durand-Ruel’s. In 1903 he was awarded the Legion of Honor. His popularity increased when a catalogue of etchings and lithographs was published by André Mellerio in 1913 and that same year, he was given the largest single representation at the New York Armory Show.