Odilon Redon

Odilon Redon

The Prince of Dreams

Grand Palais, Galeries nationales
- 23 March 2011 - 20 June 2011


An exhibition organised by the Rmn, the Musée d'Orsay and the greater city of Montpellier/ Musée Fabre, Montpellier. With special support from the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It will be shown at the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, from 7 July to 16 October 2011. Although he was a contemporary of the Impressionists (he took part in the group's last exhibition in 1886), Odilon Redon (Bordeaux 1840 – Paris 1916) remains the champion of mystery and the subconscious in a period which focused on reality and objectivity. One of the leaders in the art world at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, he was a key figure in early symbolism, with his charcoals and lithographs (the famous {noirs}) before being admired for his pastels and paintings by the young generation of artists in love with colour, the Nabis and the Fauves. He was then regarded as one of the precursors of surrealism. The exhibition in the Galeries nationales is a real rediscovery of this artist. A number of major exhibitions have recently been devoted to him in other parts of the world (Chicago and London, 1994; Frankfurt, 2007), but this retrospective is the first in Paris since the exhibition in the Orangerie in 1956. It is based on the study of many unpublished documents which shed new light on Redon's work. In particular it makes systematic use of his “book of reason” (Paris, Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet), in which he jotted down the titles and dates of his works. The book will be on display and published in the appendix to the catalogue. Some hundred and seventy paintings, pastels, charcoals and drawings, many unpublished, and a major set of engravings and lithographs (about a hundred prints, courtesy of the Bibliothèque nationale de France) are arranged in chronological order to emphasise the development in Redon's style and themes, from the anguished period of the Noirs to the explosion of colour in his last works, in a gradual progression from shade to light. For the first time, the great mural that he painted for his patron Robert de Domecy will be displayed in its original size and layout. Redon's work in the decorative arts will also be on show, thanks to major loans from the Mobilier national. Despite the overall continuity of his style throughout his career, three periods can be distinguished :

1. Early years to 1890

From Redon' youth and his training in etching under the mysterious Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885) in Bordeaux, until the beginning of the Noirs (charcoal drawings, lithographs) which, from his first collection of lithographs ({Dans le Rêve}, 1879), made his reputation in the budding symbolism movement, particularly in literary circles. Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) paid homage to him in his famous novel {À rebours} ({Against the Grain,} 1884), whose archetypal refined, decadent hero fervently collected Redon's work. His references are Darwin and the mysteries of the origins of the world but also the sumptuous macabre works of Edgar Allen Poe and Goya. The extraordinary beauty of his lithographs is due to an accomplished technique and velvety blacks, which were said to be inimitable.

2. From 1892 the end of the century

This is the period when the dreams of the Noirs were gradually transposed into colour. Yeux clos ({Closed Eyes} 1890, Paris, Musée d'Orsay), of which there is a painting and a lithograph, is a turning point after which Redon approached colour in a new spirit. He used pastel with startling originality and, alongside Degas, is still one of the great masters of this medium. He became a major figure in symbolism, and mixed with Mallarmé and Gauguin.

3. Redon in the twentieth century

After 1899, Redon gave up lithography and charcoal drawing. Black and white gave way to vivid colour in increasingly large formats. Collectors competed for his mythological themes and brightly coloured flower paintings, a sign of his new peace of mind. It was during this period that Redon produced some of the great decorations which number among the lesser known masterpieces of the twentieth century, including the one in the Fontfroide abbey, which will be open to the public while the exhibition is showing at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, in summer 2010. He won the admiration of Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse and the Fauves and in his last years he designed tapestry cartoons for the Manufacture des Gobelins.

Head curator

: Rodolphe Rapetti, general heritage curator, associate researcher at the Institut national d'histoire de l'art


: Marie-Pierre Salé, chief curator at the Musée d'Orsay Valérie Sueur-Hermel, curator of the Print and Photography department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, head of the 19th century collections

Exhibition design

: Hubert Le Gall


: every day except Tuesdays