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Pierre-Joseph Redoute: Flower Painter Extraordinaire

The artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté is best known for his beautiful and accurately detailed paintings of flowers. His simple yet elegant flower prints are still popular today for home décor and his accurate renderings of hundreds of flowers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries provide us with an invaluable source of scientific data and botanical history.

Redouté was born in 1759 into a family of painters in an area which is now Belgium. At the age of thirteen, he left home to seek his fortune as a painter of interior décor, portraits, and religious themes. During his travels, he saw the works of Dutch floral painters Brueghel and Ruysch and was inspired to paint flowers himself. In 1782, Redouté jointed his older brother in Paris,a painter of theater sets. There, he met Dutch artist Gerard van Spaendonck, the Royal Professor of Painting of the French Court. Van Spaendonck recognized Redoute’s talent and took him under his wing, tutoring him in the art of botanical illustration which was popular during this time period and introducing him to the technique of stipple engraving. Also in Paris, Redouté became acquainted with Charles Louis L’Heritier du Brutelle, a French artistocrat with a penchant for botany. L’Heritier taught Redouté the fundamentals of plant anatomy and commissioned him to produce botanical illustrations for a book he published, called Stirpes Novae.

Nurtured in his career by both van Spaendonck and L’Heritier, Redouté’s skill in botanical illustration blossomed and his reputation as a flower painter flourished. Redouté was appointed official court painter to Queen Marie Antoinette. With the advent of the French Revolution and the demise of the royal family, Redoute managed to make a smooth transition to the new regime, eventually enjoying the patronage of Empress Josephine. The Empress had a passion for both flowers and art and created magnificent gardens containing many rare and beautiful varieties of plants. Under Josephine’s patronage, Redouté produced a number of books containing his extraordinary flower illustrations.

Without a doubt, Redouté’s most significant book of flower illustrations is Les Roses; it earned him international acclaim in plant iconography. The book was sold to the French aristocracy (only they could afford it) as a subscription: four engravings were sent to subscribers each month and at the end of three years, the images were bound into a volume. Each of the 169 images of roses contained in Les Roses was produced using the stipple engraving technique which Redouté had perfected by this time. This method of engraving employed dots rather than lines to produce the image and required a separate plate for each color. The resulting image allowed for accurate detail and subtle color variation, making each print a breathtaking work of art.

After the death of Empress Josephine, Redouté experienced a slump in his artistic career but then managed to secure the position of Master of Design at the Museum D’Histoire Naturelle in 1822. In 1825, Redouté was made a member of the Legion d’Honneur. Some time afterward, he ceased to create botanical illustrations and began to concentrate on floral paintings of an aesthetic nature. Redouté died suddenly at the age of eighty.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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