AN ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR FROM REDOUTE'S MASTERPIECE "Les Liliacées"
338: Iris sambucina (Bearded Iris)
Vellum size: 18 7/8” x 13 5/8”
Signed by Redoute.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) is unquestionably the best-known botanical illustrator of any era. His work seems to demand the invention of lofty praise. A critic, writing of the 1804 Salon exhibition, noted that Redouté’s “six paintings of flowers executed in watercolor for H. M. the empress ... are realistic and beautifully painted, ... perfectly imitating nature.” He concluded, “The delicacy, exactitude, and elegance of the brushwork gives them great merit.” Vivant Denon, Director of Museums under the Empire, stated that Redouté’s gouaches were “masterpieces,” and the artist was similarly described both as the "Rembrandt" and the "Raphael" of flowers by nineteenth- century writers. It is thus unsurprising that Redouté occupies a central position in the development of European floral art, contributing to both the artistry and scientific advancement of botanical study.
Redouté had, as pupils or patrons, five queens and empresses of France, from Marie-Antoinette to Joséphine's successor, the Empress Marie-Louise. His devotion to botanical illustration was secured during the French Revolution when the competition of 1793 determined that he would continue the botanical illustrations for the Vélins, thus succeeding Spaendonck. Despite many changes of regime in this turbulent epoch, he worked without interruption, eventually contributing to over fifty books on natural history and archeology. However, his masterpieces were those completed at Malmaison for the Empress Joséphine.
An enthusiastic amateur botanist, she surrounded herself with France’s premier horticulturists, such as Jacques-Martin Cels, and created a spectacular botanical garden. Plants were sent from all over the globe with Joséphine's family in the West Indies sending her seeds and Napoleon providing seeds and plants from the botanic garden at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. The famous botanist, Felix Delahaye, provided many unusual plants for the garden and Aimé Bonpland also gave advice and supplied the Empress with seeds and plants collected on his expedition to South America from 1799 to 1804. Her affiliations with Kew Gardens in England and associations with the French ambassadors to such exotic places as Morocco, Guiana and Mexico also proved profitable for Joséphine’s plant collection. In 1805, Joséphine had la grande serre or huge greenhouse erected for the exotic plants she grew and, in addition to the species she was given, by ca. 1807, had spent 2,600 Pounds Sterling on plants from the Kennedy and Lee nursery at Hammersmith (west of London) alone.
Such a collection commanded the employment of a skilled and specialist botanical illustrator and Joséphine turned to Pierre-Joseph Redouté to record the unparalleled specimens at Malmaison. He supplied 120 plates for Ventenat’s two-volume Jardin de la Malmaison, published between 1803 and 1805 and a further 52 plates for Aimé Bonpland’s 1812 Description des plantes rares cultivées à Malmaison. However, his masterpiece was Les Liliacées, which recorded 486 plants from the gardens at Malmaison. This ambitious task was published in eight folio volumes, taking fourteen years to complete and requiring the assistance of three botanists and eighteen engravers. This piece, The Bearded Iris, is one of the watercolors presented inside of this landmark work.
This was the first work to provide accurate and detailed drawings of a group of plants that would not otherwise be easily obtainable for study. Redouté’s small drawings, placed at the bottom of the main illustrations, record the anatomical features of each species so that each flower can be identified with precision and cultivated to perfection.
While the published stipple engravings for Les Liliacées are stunning works in their own right, carefully reproduced using the stipple engraving technique, which allowed for a more accurate rendering of tone and nuance, they cannot capture the great and subtle beauty of his original watercolors for such as this example from Les Liliacées. Redouté created this volume of watercolors as a model for the engraving and hand-coloring of his landmark work on lilies. However, the delicate and richly colored watercolors including the Bearded Iris have a clarity of line and modulation of tone that even the fine stipple engravings could not attain. Largely renowned for his engraved works on paper, only in the watercolors is the full extent of Redouté's mastery and sensitivity clear.
Offered at $550,000