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Bertrand-Jean Redon, known as Odilon Redon, was born on April 20 in Bordeaux, the second child of a couple recently returned from Louisiana where they had made their fortune. A frail child, he was brought up by nannies and lived a rather solitary life with an old uncle on a family domain in the countryside of Medoc. The atmosphere of this region, with its obscure light and nuances, awoke in Redon the strange worlds and phantasmagoric daydreams present throughout his life in his work.
As an adolescent, Redon had his first drawing lessons with Stanislas Gorin, a watercolourist who encouraged him to copy and analyze the "impassioned works of Delacroix" and other artists of the day at the Museum of Bordeaux. Having taken up architecture to please his father at a time when Hausmann was redesigning the map of Paris during the Second Empire, Redon failed his examinations in Paris and, at 20, returned to Bordeaux.
At this time he became friends with the botanist Armand Clavaud who introduced him to science and literature. With Clavaud, Redon began studying the Hindu Epics and read Les Fleurs du Mal by Baudelaire, which later became the inspiration for his Fallen Angel theme, as well as Edgar Allan Poe, whose darkness and drama appealed to the French romantic spirit. In 1861, Redon exhibited his watercolour landscapes for the first time with the Association of the Friends of Arts of Bordeaux, where he met Rodolphe Bresdin who taught him etching and lithography. In 1864, he entered the workshop of Gérôme at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris.
At 40, Redon married Camille Falte, a young Creole from Île Bourbon. Their first son, Jean, died in infancy in 1886, followed shortly by the birth of a second boy, Ari, in 1888.
From the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, he worked largely in black and white (Les Noires), developing a reputation for his charcoals and for his many lithographic collaborations with poets and authors like Flaubert, Poe and Mallarmé. Redon was invited by the Expressionists to exhibit at the Show of the XX in Brussels in February 1889. He grew closer to Gauguin and his association with famous colourists like Vuillard and Bonnard contributed to the lightening of his palette. After the departure of Gauguin, Redon took a dominating role within the Nabis group.
In his later years, Redon developed an interest in the female nude and flowers and in the decorative arts, receiving a number of significant commissions for important chateaux and public buildings and from the Gobelins Tapestry Workshop. His work was introduced to America in 1913 at The Armory Show in New York, then in Chicago and Boston.
Odilon Redon passed away at 76 in Paris, an unfinished oil still on his easel.