Pierre-Joseph Redoute – Painter to the Empress
Pierre Joseph Redoute was a remarkable floral illustrator of his time. He created amazingly detailed and vibrant images of flowers and other plants. His most famous patron was Empress Josephine, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife. He held the glorious title of “Painter to the Empress” and spent many years documenting the plants at her country palace.
Pierre Joseph Redoute: A Master of Stipple Engraving
Redoute was a master of stipple engraving. He would have used something like an etching needle to painstakingly make dots of varing sizes and densities as well as lines on a copper plate that would end up being a mirror image of the flowers he was trying to capture. These enabled him to build graduations of tone to give the resulting pictures a more delicate and realistic look.
These engraved plates in turn had colors applied to them. The subtle variations in coloring he brought to his artwork was the result of single-plate color printing which made it possible to use multiple colors and print the picture in one go. Special copies of the prints may have also been touched up by hand.
Redoute’s Life at Malaison
Redoute found himself caught up in Empress Josephine’s dream of creating one of the greatest gardens in Europe at her country palace, Chateau de Malaison. Under her patronage, the gardens eventually boasted 250 varieties of plants and 200 types of roses.
His most notable work during this time was his contribution to Les Roses. A publication of three volumes that were published in 30 installments between 1817 and 1824.
His amazing illustrations were accompanied by botanist Claude Antoine Thory’s commentary. It would become one of the most beautiful and important books ever published on roses. Even today it is still used as a reference work to identify older varieties of roses.
One of the images was of the rose called “Souvenir de la Malmaison.” It commemorates Josephine’s garden and the island of Martinique where she was born. Another illustration, “Blush Noisette,’ is considered to be one of the greatest botanical illustrations of all time.
Many of the roses illustrated in these volumes can be seen in the gardens of Malaison.
After Napoleon’s exile and death, Redoute could be found in the gardens of King Louise-Philippe. His death in 1840 was most fitting. He died while painting a lily.
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