Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal | Cincinnati History Library and Archives

Hauck Botanical Exhibit

Pierre-Joseph Redoute, 1759-1840

Les Liliacees.
Paris: Didot Jeune, 1802-1816.

Title Page of Les Liliacees
Title Page

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Pierre-Joseph Redoute is recognized as the most talented botanical artist the world has known. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries he lived in Paris, the cultural and scientific center of Europe. Interest in plant illustration was at its height and his career flourished.

The engravings from Redoute's drawings during the early years of the 19th century are considered to be his best work.

Redoute was from a family of Belgian painters. He was born in 1759, the second of three brothers. He left home when he was thirteen, determined to make a living as an itinerant interior decorator and painter of portraits and religious memorabilia. As he traveled, he studied the paintings of Flemish and Dutch artists. After 10 years, he joined his older brother in Paris and worked with him as a theater set designer.

Amaryllis Vitatta from Les Liliacees
Amaryllis Vitatta

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Still interested in floral painting, Redoute visited public gardens in Paris to study and sketch the flowers. At the Jardin du Roi, he attracted the attention of botanist Charles Louis L'Heritier du Brutelle. L'Heritier became a mentor to Redoute, taught him the fundamentals of flower structure necessary for botanical illustration, and employed him as an illustrator for his Stirpes Novae (published 1785-1791). Redoute contributed 54 illustrations to this work (Hunt 1958, v.2, cvi). This was the beginning of Redoute's career.

Les Liliacees is considered by some to be his masterpiece.

In 1786, L'Heritier suggested that Redoute accompany him to London. In London Redoute learned the art of stipple engraving and color printing that would give him the technical expertise he needed to produce the beautiful illustrations found in his later works.

Another artist who influenced Redoute was the Dutch artist, Gerard van Spaendonck who had gained a favorable reputation in Paris as a painter and teacher at the Jardin des Plantes. Van Spaendonck perfected the technique of painting with pure water color which Redoute adopted and popularized.

Strelitzia Reginae from Les Liliacees
Strelitzia Reginae

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After Napoleon came to power in France, Redoute was among the staff who worked to realize Josephine Bonaparte's dream of filling the gardens of Malmaison with the rarest plants from around the world. The engravings from Redoute's drawings during the early years of the 19th century are considered to be his best work. His drawings illustrate 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) and Les Roses (1817-24). Les Liliacees is considered by some to be his masterpiece.

Lilium Superbum from Les Liliacees
Lilium Superbum

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After Josephine Bonaparte's death in 1814, Redoute was plagued by financial difficulties. He taught at the Museum, sold the original paintings of Les Roses, and, finally his furniture, silver and other paintings in vain attempts to pay his debts. Still trying to expunge his debts, he planned to paint a large floral picture that would sell for 12,000 francs. But before he could execute the painting, he died suddenly at age 80.

Sources:

Blunt, Wilfrid. The Art of Botanical Illustration. London: Collins, 1950. "The Age of Redoute" pp. 173-178.
 
Catalogue of Botanical Books. Pittsburgh, Hunt Botanical Library, 1958. vol. 2, p. cvi.
 
Dunthorne, Gordon. Catalogue Raisonne of the Works of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. London: O.S.C. Publications, 1988.

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