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In the 1870's, his "black" period, Odilon Redon drew literary, fantastic and visionary subjects in charcoal, expressing his quest for metaphysical discovery, before returning to colour in the 1880's. Caliban, a character from The Tempest by William Shakespeare, was a major source of inspiration for Redon and was depicted in several other works, including a later painting (around 1895-1900) of small size called Caliban asleep (Musée d'Orsay).

Familiar with Darwinism and contemporary scientific theories on the mutation of living beings, Redon interpreted the Elizabethan Renaissance myth of the savage through the portrayal of this strange hybrid creature, closely associated with the plant world. The Musée d'Orsay houses an exceptional collection of Odilon Redon's works, thanks to donations from Aïri (the artist's son) and Suzanne Redon.

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