The 18th and 19th century French painter, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (ray-DEW-tay), has become world-renowned for his beautifully detailed botanical illustrations, particularly his paintings of roses.
Redouté was born in Belgium 1759, and followed in his father’s footsteps from a very young age, decorating churches and painting portraits.
His brother invited him to Paris to help decorate a theater, and there the gifted artist began to blossom. He spent his spare time painting flowers in the King’s gardens.
It was there that Redouté met the botanist Charles L’Héritier, who encouraged the young artist to focus on the scientific accuracy of his work, along with his natural artistry. L’Héritier helped the young man publish his first illustrations.
Creating botanical illustrations
To create the prints from his original paintings, Redouté used the labor-intensive technologies of his day. He created several color separated engraving plates for each illustration, and then added final touches by hand to each print.
As Redoute’s reputation grew, he attracted the attention of Queen Marie-Antoinette, who chose him to decorate the walls of her palace.
But when France was overtaken by Revolutionaries, the queen was imprisoned. Late one night, Marie-Antoinette summoned Redouté to her cell, where she asked him to paint a favorite cactus plant due to flower at midnight. It was the last time the artist saw the queen alive.
Painter to the Empress
Somehow Redouté survived the French Revolution, despite his position with the Queen, and later he became “Painter to the Empress” Josephine Bonaparte (Napoleon’s wife).
By this time, Redouté was enjoying the height of his success, and was able to purchase a home in the country as well as an apartment in the city, complete with a studio. He was married and had a daughter, Josephine.
There was plenty of money, and Redouté spent lavishly, in spite of his wife’s protests. Eventually, however, Redouté became the victim of politics, his own generosity, and his lack of ability to manage money.
Painting Les Roses
It was at this point that Redouté began work on a volume of paintings called Les Roses, which became his greatest achievement. For this project, he often painted in the gardens at Malmaison, enjoying the roses with the Empress Josephine. When she died, her heirs invited Redouté to remain official painter at Malmaison, though they were no longer able to pay him for his work.
Meanwhile, the family’s unpaid bills were mounting and Redouté was forced to mortgage the country home. The large-format edition of Les Roses was an artistic triumph, but printing costs made it too expensive.
Wrong botanical names
A small, more affordable edition followed, but Redouté was criticized by botanists for printing the wrong names for some of the new plants.
Redouté continued to paint flowers and tutor his art students until he died in 1840 at the age of 81. The Louvre houses many of Redouté’s works.
Click here to shop for Redoute rose prints.
Copyright 2011 by Holly B. Martin All Rights Reserved.