The early works in charcoal of French painter and lithographer Odilon Redon gained notoriety after being admired by the hero of Joris-Karl Huysmans' novel 'Against Nature' ('À rebours', 1884), who recognizes in them "the feverish nights and frightful nightmares of his childhood".
In their narrow gold-rimmed frames of unpainted pearwood, [the pictures] contained the most fantastic of visions: a Merovingian head balanced on a cup; a bearded man with something of the bonze about him and something of the typical speaker at public meetings, touching a colossal cannon-ball with one finger; a horrible spider with a human face lodged in the middle of its body. There were other drawings which plunged even further into the horrific realms of bad dreams and fevered visions. Here there was an enormous dice blinking a mournful eye; there, studies of bleak and arid landscapes, of burnt-up plains, of earth heaving and erupting into fiery clouds, into livid and stagnant skies. (...) These drawings defied classification, most of them exceeding the bounds of pictorial art and creating a new type of fantasy, born of sickness and delirium.
Inspired by Goya and Poe, Redon's horrific visions - which he called his noirs - became a source of inspiration not just for decadents like Huysmans but for the French surrealists, and he seems to prefigure especially the work of Topor.
The examples given here are 'L'esprit gardien des eaux' ('The Guardian Spirit of the Waters', 1878), 'L'Araignée qui pleure' ('The Crying Spider', 1881) and 'Homme cactus' ('Cactus Man', 1881).
However, in a striking change of direction, Redon's later paintings would burst into vivid color and start showing more benevolent, if no less mysterious visions.