Pierre-Joseph Redouté was the greatest botanical artist of the golden era of French botanical illustration — the first four decades of the 19th century. His artistic career lasted an astonishing 67 years. According to botanical scholar Wilfred Blunt, “[r]oyal patronage, tireless energy, and the assistance of a brilliant team of stipple engravers and printers, made it possible for him to produce illustrated books which have few rivals in the whole history of botanical art.” Born in Belgium to a family of artists, Redouté left home at age 13, traveling, studying art, and making a living as an itinerant painter for the next 10 years, when he arrived in Paris to join his older brother, a theatrical scene painter. Following his interest in flower painting, he began to frequent the Jardin du Roi (King’s Garden). There he met his first major patron, the wealthy botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle, for whom he illustrated two botanical studies. He also became a protégé of the Dutch artist Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1882), professor of flower painting at the museum at the Jardin, whose watercolor technique profoundly influenced Redouté’s style. In 1793, Redouté and his younger brother joined the museum staff; after van Spaendonck’s death in 1822, Redouté succeeded him as a “master of drawing.”
In 1798, Redouté attracted another important patron, the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, who commissioned an extensive series of paintings after the ornamental flowers in her lavish gardens at Malmaison, which became the plates for the books Jardin de Malmaison (1803-04), Description des Plantes Rares Cultivées à Malmaison et à Navarre (1813). He also created plates for Duhamel du Monceau’s monumental seven-volume horticultural study on fruit trees, Nouveau Traité des Arbres Fruitiers (1800-19). During this period he also produced two of his most famous works: Les Liliacées (1802-16) and Les Roses (1817-24). There followed another renowned collection, Choix Des Plus Belles Fleurs (1827-33). Redouté was esteemed by his artistic peers, and influenced a number of younger botanical artists including Pierre Jean François Turpin, Pierre-Antoine Poiteau, Pancrace Bessa, Mme. Vincent and Jean Prévost. In 1825, he was made a member of the Legion of Honor.
A large number of Redouté’s original watercolors on vellum are in the collection of the Musée National de La Malmaison in France and other museums, though many are in private collections. His renown, however, is due to the remarkable quality of the prints made after these paintings, which brought his works to a wider audience during his lifetime and thereafter. The most accomplished engravers of the period were engaged to translate his original paintings into stipple engravings, in which the plates are etched with small dots rather than lines. Indeed, Redouté helped refine the stipple engraving process to best capture the subtle effects, luminosity, sheen and dimensionality of his original paintings. Through a method he invented in 1796, the colors were applied to the engraved plate a la poupée before each printing, “giving to our prints all the softness and brilliance of a watercolor,” as Redouté noted. Finally, each print was finished with additional coloring by hand. Redouté’s high standards are evident in the striking way in which the resulting prints capture the subtle delicacy of flower petals and foliage.
The 486 plates that make up Les Liliacées were printed in installments from 1802 to 1816, and included members of the lily family as well as some other plants. During this period, Redouté was at work on a series of paintings commissioned by Empress Josephine Bonaparte of her gardens. Though these lily paintings were not part of that commission, the work was facilitated by Redouté’s access to her garden at Malmaison, and he presented her with the original drawings. He also found subjects for this work in the gardens of Saint-Cloud, Versailles and Sèvres. Redouté’s stated intention was to capture the flowers “with all the fidelity that science can desire, and, which is more difficult, with the luxury of detail with which nature has embellished them,” especially since specimens from this family of plants were particularly difficult to preserve. Thus, his prints were ideal for study by naturalists and amateur gardening enthusiasts. He also pointed out that artists and decorative arts designers were among those who could benefit from these plates, presumably as a reference and inspiration for floral designs.
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, soft creases. Faint, very pale scattered foxing, not obtrusive. Plate marks variously present, some close to margin, as typical for this work and thus likely as issued; margins still ample regardless.
Blunt, Wilfred, rev. by Stearn, William T. The Art of Botanical Illustration. Woodbridge, Suffolk, England: Antique Collectors Club, 1994. pp. 25-26, 194-209.
Brindle, John V., James J. White and Donald E Wendel. Flora Portrayed: Classics of Botanical Art from the Hunt Institute Collection. Pittsburgh, PA: Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1985. pp. 44-45.
Dunthorne, Gordon. Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. Their History, Makers and Uses, with a Catalogue Raisonne of the Works in Which They are Found. Washington, D.C.: Published by the Author, 1938. 231 (Redouté Lilies), 232 (Redouté Roses), 235 (Redouté Choix).
Lawrence, G.M.A., F.A. Stafleu, I. MacPhail, J.V. Brindle and A. Lawalrée. A Catalogue of Redoutéana. April-Aug. 1963. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Institute of Technology, Hunt Botanical Library, 1963. 10 (Redouté Lilies), 19 (Redouté Roses), 20 (Redouté Choix).
Nissen, Claus. Die Botanische Buchillustration: ihre Geschichte und Bibliographie. Stuttgart:1951-66. 1591 (Redouté Choix), 1597 (Redouté Lilies), 1599 (Redouté Roses).
Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s Les Liliacees. New York: Sotheby’s Publications, 1985.
Pritzel, Georg August. Thesaurus Literaturae Botanicae Omnium Gentium. Milan: 1950. 7456 (Redouté Choix).
Sitwell, Sacheverell and Roger Madol. Album de Redoute. London: Collins, 1954.
Sitwell, Sacheverell. Great Flower Books, 1700-1900. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990. pp. 71-72.
Stafleu, Frans A. and Richard S.Cowan. Taxonomic Literature. Utrecht: 1967. 2nd ed., Utrecht: 1976-1988. TL2 8747 (Redouté Lilies), TL2 8748 (Redouté Roses), TL2 8750 (Redouté Choix).