The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Detail of Joséphine's March Lily (Amaryllis josephinae) by Pierre-Joseph Redouté on view in The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté

The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redouté

November 17, 2002 to March 2, 2003

Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759–1840), the foremost 18th-century French painter of flowers and plants, is unquestionably the best-known botanical artist of any era. Described as both the “Rembrandt” and the “Raphael” of flowers by 19th-century writers, Redouté brought the tradition of botanical painting to its apogee. Supported by royal patronage and produced even during the years of the French Revolution and following the Restoration, Redouté’s ravishingly beautiful flower paintings attest to the value placed on art and scientific inquiry by the French people throughout this tumultuous era. While Reduoté had regularly been the subject of shows in France and elsewhere in Europe, this exhibition was the first ever devoted to this important French master in the United States.

Born into a family of artists in the Belgian Ardennes, Redouté studied the floral paintings of earlier Flemish and Dutch still-life artists. In Paris, he studied botany with the noted naturalist Charles-Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle and learned the technique of painting in watercolor on vellum from Gerard van Spaendonck, Flower Painter to the King. By this master painter’s own account, his pupil’s work was finer than his own. Redouté was given access to the gardens of Trianon at Versailles by Marie Antoinette, and, ten years later, to those of Malmaison by the Empress Joséphine, wife of Napoleon I. Throughout his long life, he remained productive, repeatedly finding favor with each new regime.

Redouté’s greatest works are his carefully observed and supremely delicate watercolors on vellum and parchment, many of which were reassembled in this exhibition. However, he was also the illustrator of more than 50 botanical books. Redouté perfected a special method of color stipple engraving that gives his botanical prints rich subtleties of color and a striking luminosity. The exhibition was comprised of about 45 watercolors of lilacs, roses, and other flowers and plants, a sampling of his prints, as well as one of Redouté’s rare oil paintings.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut, where it premiered from July 20 through October 20, 2002, before traveling to Fort Worth. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue by the noted 18th-century French still-life specialist, Marianne Roland-Michel.

Promotional support for the exhibition was provided by American Airlines and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Caption: Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Joséphine's March Lily (Amaryllis josephinae), detail, 1802–5, watercolor on vellum. Collection Myrna and Ira Brind