A fine stipple engraving with original hand color
21 x 14 inches sheet, 31 x 24 inches framed. Fine stipple-engraved plate in colors.
L’imprimerie de Didot Jeune. Paris, 1802 – 1816. Annotation with names in French on lower half; legend below identifying P.J. Redouté as painter and Phillippeaux as engraver (tiny tears on left margin, toning consistent with age).
The unequalled botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté occupies a central position in the development of European flower painting. Dubbed the “Raphael of flowers,” he produced over 2,100 published plates depicting more than 1,800 flower species over the course of his career, many of which had never been represented before. Redouté had, as pupils or patrons, five queens and empresses of France, from Marie-Antoinette to Empress Josephine and her successor, Marie Louise. Despite many changes of regime in a turbulent epoch, he managed to work without interruption, a testament to his enduring appeal as an artist. His work represents a uniquely harmonious blend of scientific precision and supremely delicate rendering that has never been surpassed.
“Les Liliacées” is perhaps Redouté’s most celebrated volume, which he issued while under the patronage of the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. This volume records the plants of the Lily family, and related flowers, that Josephine collected and cultivated in her magnificent gardens at Malmaison.The luminosity of stipple engraving, a technique perfected by Redouté, is particularly suited to the reproduction of botanical detail. The medium involved engraving a copper plate with a dense grid of dots that could be modulated to convey delicate gradations of color. The edges of the leaves and petals were dotted as well so as to achieve softness of form. Because the ink rested on the paper in miniscule dots, it did not obscure the “light” of the paper beneath the color. After this complex printing process was complete, the prints were finished by hand in watercolor, so as to conform to the exquisite models Redouté provided.
The present stipple engraving provides a true-to-life portraiture of a Bird of Paradise flower, so named because the exquisite shape and intense colors of its petals resemble the magnificent feathers of birds-of-paradise. This stunning and scarce plant was first introduced to Britain from its native South Africa in the late 18th century, when its flowers caused a great sensation at Kew Gardens. It acquired its Latin name, Strelitzia, from Sir Joseph Banks, who named it in honor of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who in 1761 became Queen to George III (Mathew, 236).
In this composition, the Strelitzia floats gracefully in space, without background or setting. The regal simplicity of the composition allows the viewer to focus without distraction on the beauty and delicate complexity of the plant itself. The exceptional structure of the flower is on full display, with its outer three fiery orange segments equally parted, and the inner three indigo blue segments peaking through. The whole inflorescence is enclosed within a large tubular beak-like bract--a feature that gave Strelitzia its third, vernacular name--Crane Flower (Mathew, 236). The main life-size illustration is accompanied by Redouté’s small drawing placed below, which record the flower’s individual anatomical features, including the pistil and stamens, the bract, and the flower with bracts removed (Mathew, 236). These small drawings enable each flower to be identified with precision and cultivated to perfection.
Reference: Brian Mathew, “P.J. Redouté: Lilies and Related Flowers,” (London: 1981).
You are warmly invited to visit our gallery at 1016 Madison Avenue in New York City to view this work whenever it might be convenient.