Monday, March 23, 2009

Botanical artist - Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Rosa moschata by Pierre-Joseph Redouté
When I was younger, my first encounter with 'proper' botanical art was through the botanical illustrations in the Royal Horticultural Society Calendars, diaries and address books that my mother used to get from our local garden centre.

I just loved the pictures and could sit and stare at them for hours. You can see the sort of thing I mean in these botanical illustrations. I started to learn about the different styles of the various botanical artists whose work was represented. Slowly I began to learn the names - which always seemed to me to be slightly odd - otherwise known as being foreign! On my break, I did a bit more studying of botanical art and botanical artists and began to put together some more information sites including Pierre Redoute - Resources for Botanical Art Lover  [updated] About Pierre-Joseph Redouté ​(1759-1840)​

Pierre-Joseph Redouté was one of the names I first learned from the RHS publications. He was the man who painted the beautiful roses and lilies. I've now learned that in total he produced over 2100 published plates depicting over 1800 different species, many of which had never been rendered before. I wonder what it must have been like documenting plants wh ich had never been drawn or painted before! Redouté's art was the first art I came across where, although botanically accurate, the emphasis appeared to be more on the art than the botany. I've now learned that the major initial influences on his work were the Dutch and Flemish flower painters of the baroque period (such as Ambrosius Brueghel, Rachel Ruysch, Jan van Huysum and Jan Davidszoon de Heem). One of the things I'm finding particularly fascinating is how botanical art has been produced over the years. In the case of Redouté he originally went to London and Kew in 1786 to learn the art of stipple engraving and color printing which was to provide him him with the technical expertise needed to produce his beautiful botanical illustrations. Latterly, he certainly developed to perfection a method of colour application which involved the use of a minute chamois leather or cotton mop for the application of a succession of colours to a copper engaving. In later years, he also learned how to paint using pure watercolour - from a Dutch artist, Gerard van Spaendonck

Patronised by the last Queen and the first Empress of France 

I also found out that Redouté's profile is in no small way due to his patronage by two of the premier first ladies of European history - which is quite a unique claim!
Marie Antoinette 1783 by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Although Redouté was born in the Ardennes in Belgium, he was appointed draughtsman to the cabinet of Queen Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France (and continued painting right through the French Revolution!). After the revolution he was transferred to the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle at the Jardin Botanique where he became involved in developing botanical illustrations for scientific publications and was also commissioned to document gardens which became national property. Joséphine de Beauharnais, Empress Consort of the French François Gérard After the Revolution. Josephine Bonaparte, the first Empress of France, wanted to fill the the gardens of the Château de Malmaison with the rarest plants from around the world. Redouté prospered under the patronage of the Empress Josephine and the engravings from Redoute's drawings of those plants during the early years of the 19th century are considered to be his best work. These include:
  • Etienne Pierre Ventenat's Jardin de Malmaison (1803-04),
  • Aime Bonpland's Description des Plantes Rares Cultivees a Malmaisonet a Navarre (1812-17),
  • Les Liliacees (1802-16) Les Liliacees is considered by some to be his masterpiece
  • and finally Les Roses (1817-24).
I have also created a group website - A compendium of Botanical Art Headquarters - which can be used as a bookmark by all those who like botanical art and as a route into all the sites I develop. I'm on a bit of a roll with my botanical art studies so expect a few more of these. Some like Margaret Mee are well known while others I only learned about as I started to find out more about botanical art. Coming up are:
  • Basilis Besler
  • The Bauer Brothers
  • Geogre Dionysius Ehret
  • Margaret Mee



  1. Botanical art is one of my favourite genres. Thank you for a wonderful post Katherine. Redoute's talent and his commitment to his craft is most inspiring.

  2. Last month I was at Kew and visited The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. It has only been open for a year and I hadn't even known it was there so it was a wonderful bonus. It includes works by Thomas Baines and Mariann North as well as some wonderful antipodean modern artists like Brian Poole, Jenny Phillips and Paul Jones.

  3. I'm still working my way through Basilius Besler's Book of Plants. Apart from the skill of the draftsman what fascinates me is how so many of the plants he painted have since evolved. His hyacinth is quite scrawny compared to the ones we grow today.

    Many thanks for this new resource, Katherine.


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