French painter, lithographer, and etcher who produced an essentially imaginative œuvre inspired by both personal experience and the novelties of science. Born at Bordeaux, Redon spent his childhood at Peyrelebade, his father’s estate in the Médoc. His father had prospered in Louisiana and married a young Creole before returning to his native region. Peyrelebade became a basic source of inspiration for all Redon’s art, providing him with both subjects from nature and a stimulus for his fantasies. He studied drawing with Stanislas Gorin from 1855 and in 1857 he attempted unsuccessfully to become an architect; he also became an accomplished violinist. He developed a keen interest in contemporary literature, partly through the influence of Armand Clavaud, a botanist and thinker who became his friend and intellectual mentor.
He was taught briefly in Paris by Jean-Léon Gérôme and later back in Bordeaux by the engraver Rudolph Bresdin. He was introduced to lithography by Fantin-Latour and lithographs formed a major part of his production during the 1880s and 1890s: he used them partly as a way of making his charcoal drawings known to a wider audience.
Redon held his first Paris exhibitions at the time of the early lithograph albums, showing charcoal drawings at the review La Vie moderne in 1881 and in the newspaper Le Gaulois in 1882. In 1884 he helped to organize the first Salon des Indépendants and in 1886 exhibited both at the last Impressionist Exhibition and with Les Vingt in Brussels. His charcoals won acclaim in the Parisian literary avant-garde. He was taken up by the literary Symbolists and was a friend of J -K Huysmans and Mallarmé.
In the 1890s he turned to colour, producing poetic studies in pastel and oils of flowers and dreaming heads among others. In 1904 he was given a room in the Salon d’Automne, this contributing to the advent of Fauvism. New generations of writers, including Gide and Cocteau, became his companions and interpreters. His reputation spread abroad, notably at the American Armory Show of 1913 and in 1913. Surrealist artists regarded him as one of the precursors of their movement.