The work of Odilon Redon (1840-1916) vividly illustrates the theories of Symbolism. In reaction to his Impressionist contemporaries, whom he accused of “aiming too low”, Redon sought to combine “human beauty with the nimbus of intellect”. In creating such works as ‘Closed Eyes’, ‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘The Chariot of Apollo’, he unlocked the door to the invisible. Imbued with the music of Wagner, enraptured by the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé, he lent expression to his obsessive fears and dreams in the prints and charcoals he called his noirs.
Then, gradually, colour began to filter into his work, and the fallen angels, hideous monsters, gnomes, giants and fantastic forms gave way to women, bouquets of flowers, mythological subjects and butterflies. Oils, pastels and watercolours marked a turning point in his creative inspiration, bodied forth in a new and exceptionally sumptuous handling of colour. Serenity now took the place of fear.
This new synthesis, this intimate fusion of the real and the symbolic, which was much admired by his young friends, the Nabis, calls to mind the famous maxim he had long since adopted, one that heralded the advent of Surrealism