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Here's Redon himself on his work:
"While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality... true art lies in a reality that is felt."
"I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted before an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance. But the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased."
By the way, if you can read French, you can read his journal with these and other quotes here. Redon's work is often macabre round the edges, but also very often fresh-colored and sweet in a curious way. See more here.