Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759–1840) was one of the best botanical illustrators of the eighteenth century, able to skillfully bring exotic and native plants to life for the enjoyment and edification of naturalists and nobles. Leaving his family of Belgian painters, Redouté moved to Paris in 1782, hoping to find a career painting flowers. He began making botanical drawings for the Jardin du Roi (the present-day Muséum national d’histoire naturelle), where he befriended Dutch painter Gerard van Spaendonck (1746–1822). A professor of floral painting at Jardin du Roi at the time, Spaendonck helped Redouté develop his artistic style, including unique engraving and water coloring methods. Soon after, Charles Louis L’Héritier (1746–1800), a wealthy magistrate and self-taught botanist, took Redouté under his wing, teaching him how to dissect flowers, draw plant anatomy, and depict botanical details. L’Héritier recruited Redouté to illustrate more than half of the plates of Stirpes novae (1784–1785) and Sertum Anglicum (1788), both of which described and depicted specimens from the Dombey-Ruiz-Pavón expedition to Chile and Peru (1777–1788), as well as native and exotic plants in Kew Garden, Jardin du Roi, and other European gardens.
Spaendonck and L’Héritier launched Redouté’s scientific career, but his elegant illustrations paired with a gifted networking ability brought him to the attention of royalty. He was appointed painter to Queen Marie-Antoinette in the late 1780s. He continued painting for the Jardin du Roi after the Revolution. The first botanical publication for which he was the sole artist was Plantarum historia succulentarum (1799–1832), the result of French botanist René Louiche Desfontaines’ expedition to Tunisia and Algeria.
A subsequent commission came with the new French empire. Napoleon Bonaparte married Joséphine de Beauharnais in 1796. Joséphine enjoyed horticulture and botany and, with the wealth and power of her husband, purchased Malmaison and remodeled its gardens, filling them with both native European plants and specimens from botanical expeditions overseas. Redouté became Joséphine’s court artist and illustrated a stunning and accurate record of her work in Jardin de la Malmaison (1805), by botanist Étienne-Pierre Ventenat. Redouté’s later publications for Joséphine included Les liliacées (1802–1816) and Les roses (1817).
Lawrence, George H. M., ed. A Catalogue of Redoutéana Exhibited at the Hunt Botanical Library 21 April to 1 August 1963. Pittsburgh: Hunt Botanical Library, Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1963.
More Exhibit Items