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Redon's Childhood and Early Career

Et il distingue une plaine aride

Redon was born on 22 April 1840 in rural Bordeaux. He came from a comfortably middle class family and grew up on the family estate of Peyrelebade. Redon was very fond of the countryside of his youth and returned to Peyrelebade many times, until 1897, when the house was finally sold. He later described spending whole days laying on the grass, 'watching the clouds pass, following with infinite pleasure the magical brightness of their fleeting variations.' In contrast to this, he remembered himself as a 'sad and weak' child, who, through ill health led a solitary existence. Advised against physical or mental exertion, he 'sought out the shadows.' This had a huge effect on his early artistic output, with its often sombre, melancholic appearance, and it also stirred Redon's interest in nature and imagination.

At the age of fifteen Redon began his artistic training, studying drawing under Stanislas Gorin. At seventeen Redon's father made him begin studying architecture, which he continued in Paris until he failed entrance to the architecture stream at the École des beaux-arts in 1862. More significant was his meeting the botanist Armand Clavaud in 1857. Clavaud was more than simply an authority on science and nature; he introduced the young Redon to the writings of Charles Baudelaire, Charles Darwin, Gustave Flaubert, and Edgar Allen Poe. After failing the architecture exam, Redon spent a brief and unhappy period in Paris studying under Jean-Léon Gérôme. He described himself as 'tortured' by the teacher: 'This teacher drew with authority a stone, a shaft or a column, a table, a chair ... and all of inorganic nature. The pupil saw only the expression, only the expansion of the triumphant feeling of forms.' Back in Bordeaux, Redon found a more suitable teacher in Rodolphe Bresdin in 1865. Most importantly, Bresdin taught Redon the technique of etching, and was also the first person to introduce him to lithography. During this period Redon started travelling to Paris and had some success entering an etching and a drawing into the Paris Salon. He also regularly exhibited work with the Société des Amis des Arts de Bordeaux. Redon's artistic career was then suddenly interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, for which he was drafted.