The works of the great botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-
1840) seem to demand the invention of lofty praise. Described both as
the "Rembrandt" and the "Raphael" of Flowers by nineteenth century
writers, Redouté occupies a central position in the development of
European botanical art.
Born into a family of artists, Redouté's talents were recognized and
encouraged from an early age. He studied botany with the noted
naturalist Heritier de Brutelle, and learned the technique of painting in
watercolor on vellum from Gerard van Spaendonck, Flower Painter to
the King. By this master painter's own account, his pupil's work was finer.
Redoute had, as pupils or patrons, five queens and empresses of
France, from Marie Antoinette to Empress Josephine and her successor,
Marie-Louise. Despite many changes of regime in this turbulent epoch,
he worked without interruption, eventually contributing to over fifty
books on natural history and archeology.
Les Liliacées was Redouté's largest and most ambitious work and is generally considered his masterpiece, arguably rivaled only by Les Roses. Produced under the patronage of the Empress Josephine, for whom Redouté worked as botanical artist at her estate at Malmaison, these pristine examples represent landmark works in the field of flower illustration.
Les Liliacées records the plants of the lily family and related flowers (including representatives of the amaryllis, iris, and orchid families), that Josephine collected for her gardens at Malmaison. Redouté's small drawings, placed at the bottom of the main illustrations, record the anatomical features of each species so that each flower could be identified with precision and cultivated to perfection. In each illustration, as in his series Les Roses, the flowers are classical 'portraits' which lack backgrounds or settings. The regal simplicity of the compositions allows the viewer to focus without distraction on the beauty and delicate complexity of the plants themselves. Redoutés's work represents a uniquely harmonious blend of scientific precision and supremely delicate rendering.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté's Roses are perhaps his most celebrated images, which the artist issued while under the patronage of the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. In each, the flowers are classical 'portraits' which lack backgrounds or settings. The regal simplicity of the compositions allows the viewer to focus without distraction on the beauty and delicate complexity of the plants themselves. Perhaps better than any other engravings that the artist ever made, these images demonstrate the flawless and pristine French style of botanical art that Redouté pioneered and brought to a pinnacle of quality.
Redouté (1759-1840) is unquestionably the best-known botanical illustrator of any era. The decorative appeal of his original engravings has led to their modern reproduction, which in turn has popularized Redouté's work in a way unique among botanical artists. Yet no reproduction can capture the great and subtle beauty of his original engravings from Les Roses, nor can any introductory paragraph fully describe his many achievements. These magnificent engravings demonstrate the full mastery of his abilities, as the forms of the roses are set off dramatically by Redouté's masterful and rich modulations of tone and hue.
The Choix des Plus Belles Fleurs is one of Redoute's last, and most
personal works. It is a selection of favorite flowers and fruits by a master
who had devoted a lifetime to the art of botanical illustration. The images
include spectacular blossoms plucked from formal gardens, as well as the
more modest blooms of wayside flowers. These small and richly colored
plates convey an intimate sense of beauty that sets them apart from other