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Paris and Symbolism

Les Ténèbres

By 1876, Redon had moved permanently to Paris to pursue his career as an artist. He quickly became one of the most important members of the Symbolist avant-garde, emerging just at the point that Redon moved to Paris. It began as a literary movement, with its roots in the writings of Baudelaire, particularly Les Fleurs du Mal, an edition for which Redon later produced a frontispiece. The Symbolists were a broad group of writers and artists who rejected the naturalism of Zola and the Impressionists, in favour of creating works which were mysterious, subjective, and evocative. The name 'Symbolism' was coined by poet Jean Moréas in his article 'Le symbolisme' of September 18, 1886, in Le Figaro. He began: 'An enemy of didactic pursuits, of "declamation, of false sensitivity, of objective description," symbolist poetry endeavours to clothe the Idea in a form perceptible to the senses that nevertheless does not constitute an ultimate goal in itself, but, while helping to convey the Idea, remains subordinate.' Redon's views on his art corresponded well to this literary manifesto. Indeed, Redon said the aim of his works was to 'inspire, they do not define. They determine nothing. They place us, just as music does, in the ambiguous world of the indeterminate.' Above all Symbolist art was always ambiguous, indeterminate, and subjective.

Redon found particularly good friends in Stéphane Mallarmé and Joris-Karl Huysmans. They met and corresponded regularly and shared similar ideas on art and interest in subjects like spiritualism, mysticism, and the occult. Artists and writers met at Mallarmé's house on Tuesday evenings to discuss their ideas, and this gave Redon the chance to firmly establish himself amongst the avant-garde. Huysmans especially was a great promoter of Redon's work. He won Redon a huge amount of publicity and his inclusion in A Rebours firmly established the artist as part of the Symbolist avant-garde. Huysmans went on to encourage friends and acquaintances to buy prints. For example, he wrote to Redon asking him to send a signed Profil de Lumière to the writer Robert Caze.

At the same time Symbolism was establishing itself in Paris, the movement spread to the avant-garde in Brussels. In 1886 Huysmans drew the Belgian author Jules Destrée's attention to Redon. Destrée, in turn, introduced his literary friends Edmond Picard and Emile Verhaeren to Redon. From then on Redon became the most significant artist for the Belgian Symbolists and he regularly submitted works to their Salons.