Odilon Redon, an individualist who believed in the superiority of the imagination over observation of nature, rejected the Realism and Impressionism of his contemporaries in favor of a more personal artistic vision. After a discouraging experience studying academic painting in Paris, he returned to his hometown of Bordeaux, where he began making etchings in 1864. Later, returning to Paris, he was encouraged by a fellow artist to try lithography and was introduced to Lemercier, a renowned Parisian workshop. He soon discovered that the unique qualities of this technique enabled him to achieve infinite gradations of tone, fine-line drawing, and rich depictions of light and dark. Also, through the possibility of editioning, he found a vehicle for broadly distributing the intimate imagery of his drawings.
During his lifetime, Redon made close to thirty etchings and two hundred lithographs, working almost exclusively in black and white. His reputation flourished, due, in part, to the availability of his prints. He became a celebrated figure in fin-de-siècle Paris, greatly admired by artists and writers of the Symbolist movement with whom he shared an enthusiasm for the fantastic, mystical, and sublime forces found beneath the surface of everyday life. Using nature as his starting point, Redon imagined new worlds through his enigmatic creations, such as The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity.
The majority of Redon's lithographs are found in albums based on thematic or literary subjects. He was greatly inspired by such authors as Edgar Allan Poe and Gustave Flaubert, whose unusual sensibilities were well suited to the artist's own. Redon was so moved by Flaubert's 1874 prose poem The Temptation of Saint Anthony that he created three separate projects based on it.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery and Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 47.