Bertrand Redon was born on April 1840 to a wealthy family in Bordeaux, in the traditional region of Aquitaine, France. He became known as Odilon after his mother, Odile, gave him the loving nickname. His talents were visible from the start, as he began drawing as a child. Redon started to study art and to draw in 1855, at only fifteen but failed to pass the entry test to the École des Beaux-Arts - which he changed to major in architecture because of his father's insistence. Although he didn’t fulfill his father’s wishes, his brother, Gaston Redon did and became a successful architect. Redon was fortunate to study painting for a period in 1864 with the prestigious Jean-Léon Gérôme.
Redon isn’t only known for being an outstanding painter, but also one of the best printmakers of his time. After returning home, he learned techniques like lithography and metal etching with the engraver Rodolphe Bresdin. The artist also expanded in areas and started to work with sculpting. When the Franco-Prussian War began in 1870, Redon was drafted and fought for his country. After a year, the war ended, and Redon was able to continue producing. He moved to Paris, where most European artists went to during this period and dedicated himself to his art. This time, expanding his work in printmaking and working with lithography, as well as charcoal drawing - two techniques that weren’t highly valued by the standards of Academic art. Redon’s work identified with the Symbolist movement, which also occurred in Russia and Belgium. He would often use the French word noirs (or black) to describe his visionary figures that were depicted in dark shadows - a theme he abandoned after the 1890s. His early artworks have a dream-like quality, sometimes nightmare, which emerges from his imaginative mind, his psyche and intimate feelings.
In 1878, the artist earned his first recognition in the art world with his masterpiece entitled Guardian Spirit of the Waters, and a year later he completed his first lithographic album, Dans le Rêve. Although printmaking wasn’t seen as fine art, like oil painting, it was a helpful medium for artists to become better known, since it allows more copies of the work to be produced. In 1884, the novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans broke away from Naturalism when he wrote Á Rebours (Against Nature) with strong Symbolist aesthetics. Huysmans mentions Redon, making him more well known. By the turn of the century, he joined a group of Post-Impressionists called Les Nabis in an exhibit. By this period the artist worked mainly with oil paint and pastels. Like the Impressionists, Redon was inspired by the works of the Japanese artists, but not only that, he was passionate about Buddhism, Hinduism, and Asian culture in general. These influences can be seen in artworks like Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, The Buddha, and Vase with Japanese Warrior.
Redon’s excellence in the field of art was recognized by the Legion of Honor in 1903, which he was awarded. About three years before his death, he participated in the first ever large modern art exhibit, known as the Armory Show, which took place in Boston, Chicago, and New York City. The artist passed away in July of 1916.