Redouté Lilies Pl. 485, Short-spicate Agave
Original Antique Print
13 1/2" x 20 1/2" (approximate)
Hand-colored stipple engraving
Comprising 503 plates, Les Liliacées appeared in 80 parts from 1802 to 1816. Only 200 copies were produced. Josephine Bonaparte’s support made the work possible, herself ordering several sets.The flawless bone-white paper in this folio allows the brilliance of color and nuance of tonality to shine through. It is not possible to overstate the beauty of the plates in this folio.
Considered to be a French artist, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759—1840) was born in the village of Saint-Hubert, now a part of Belgium. The descendant of a long line of painters, he received his first training as an artist from his father, Charles Joseph Redouté (1715—76). At the age of 13, he left Saint-Hubert to make a living as an itinerant painter and decorator. During this period he studied the old masters, and in particular, was influenced by the work of the 18th-century Dutch flower painter, Jan van Huysum. In 1782, his elder brother, Antoine Ferdinand Redouté (1756—1809), a highly regarded decorative artist, invited him to join him in Paris as a stage-set designer. There, in his spare time, he began sketching rare plants at the Jardin du Roi (now the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle). There, his artistic talent came to the attention of the Linnaean botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier and Gerard van Spaëndonck, Royal Professor of Painting, and they became Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s mentors. Gerard van Spaëndonck developed the watercolor technique that Pierre-Joseph Redouté later popularized.
In 1786, Pierre-Joseph Redouté spent a brief period in England where he was introduced to the stipple-engraving technique. Employed at that time primarily for portraiture, it is a process of incising minute depressions in a copper plate forming a field of dots rather than lines. Stipple engraving is sublimely suited to conveying the subtle tonal gradations of watercolors. Pierre-Joseph Redouté, who is credited with perfecting this technique said, “The process which we invented in 1796 for color printing consists in the employment of these colors on a single plate…. We have thereby softness and brilliance of a watercolor.” The dynamic realism he achieved surpassed all previous attempts at color botanical printmaking. In recognition of this valuable contribution, Pierre-Joseph Redouté was awarded a medal by Louis XVIII.
On the eve of the French Revolution, Pierre-Joseph Redouté was named to the position of Draftsman to the Cabinet of Marie Antoinette. Remarkably, he not only survived the Revolution, but attracted the patronage of Josephine Bonaparte in a seamless transition from the royal court to the French Republic. In 1798, Josephine Bonaparte acquired a grand estate, Malmaison, and began to fill its gardens with the rarest plants that the old and new worlds could furnish.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté flourished under Josephine’s reign, publishing during this period the monumental Les Liliacées, 1802—1816, naming the most dramatic plate after his benefactress, the “Amaryllis Josephinae”. Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1809, and she died in 1814. In the absence of Josephine’s patronage, Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s fortunes began to decline. Somewhat impoverished, he died in 1840, suffering a stroke.
References: Sacheverell Sitwell, Great Flower Books, 1700—1900, page 128, 1990.
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