Born in Bordeaux in 1840, Redon rejected his father’s pleas to become an architect. Instead, he studied painting in Paris under Jean-Léon Gérôme, and then etching and lithography back in his hometown under Rodolphe Bresdin.
After a spell in the army during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, he began the charcoal drawings and lithographs known collectively as his ‘Noirs’. These were produced in black on variously toned papers and would occupy him for more than two decades.
Sometimes taking inspiration from literary works by the likes of Gustave Flaubert and Edgar Allan Poe, the Noirs feature an array of dreamlike characters, such as smiling spiders and grumpy eggs. In one famous example, Eye Balloon, a hot-air balloon in the form of a human eye soars high above a marshy landscape. The Noirs are regarded by many observers as precursors of Surrealism.
In the 1890s, Redon’s art underwent a major shift: he embraced colour, turning his back on graphic work in favour of oil paintings and pastels. This was partly attributable to the influence of his friend, Paul Gauguin. Redon was an avid reader, and the subjects of his colour works include a range of religious figures and characters from classical mythology.
His best-known pictures, however, are the still-lifes of flowers, which he began in 1900 and created in large numbers. It was actually his wife who chose the flowers to be depicted — and arranged them in vases. They are portrayed naturalistically for the most part, albeit with a chromatic intensity that’s perhaps best described as otherworldly.
A number of Redon’s works were shown, to popular acclaim, at the famous Armory Show of 1913 in New York City.
He died three years later, aged 76. In 2018, his floral painting, Fleurs, from The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, sold for $4,092,500 at Christie’s — setting a record for the highest price paid for a work by Redon at auction.