8 volumes. Folio (21 x 14 2/8 inches). Half-titles, printed dedication to Chaptal, letterpress title-pages, and French-Latin index to each volume. Engraved portrait frontispiece of Redoute by C.S. Pradier after Gerard. 486 numbered STIPPLE-ENGRAVED PLATES PRINTED IN COLORS, plate 370-371 a single folding plate, plate 372 uncolored as usual, by Bessin, Chapuy, and others after Redoute (some light browning and some spotting to plates in volumes V-VIII, particularly affecting plates 295 and 385, some occasional spotting and browning to text, particularly in the later volumes, and to the preliminaries of volume VII, one or two pale marginal stains, some pages loose). Fine contemporary French half crimson morocco, scarlet paper boards, each cover decorated with a broad gilt border of fillets of scrolling flower roll tools, each smooth spine decorated in seven compartments with exquisite alternating lily tools, gilt-lettered in two, uncut (extremities a bit scuffed, corners bumped).
Provenance: Contemporary engraved bookplate of "De Cres" on the front paste-down of volumes I - V. "Art can capture and record the impact and the varied nuances that we admire in these flowers" (Redoute "Introduction") First edition, early issue of arguably Redoute's most beautiful work, plate 95 "Tradescantia Virginica" in the first state labelled "Commelina erecta", plate 428 "Narcissus laetus" is present in two states engraved by Bessin and Langlois, and plate 429 "Narcissus dubius" is engraved by Chapuy.
Originally published in 80 parts, each comprising six plates with accompanying text, except for the last part which had twelve plates. Redoute was first brought to Royal patronage by Marie-Antoinette in 1788 when she appointed him Dessinatteur du Cabinet de la Reine and granted him access to the Petit Trianon.
From then until the end of his long life Redoute weathered the political storms of France with remarkable ease "he survived the difficult years of the Revolution and the Restoration and found approval with all the rulers who changed in quick succession" (Hinz). However it was ten years later that his most creative period began under the patronage of the Empress Josephine when she acquired the Malmaison Chateau in Rueil, south of Paris: "she was passionately interested in botany and horticulture, and the design and layout of the Malmaison chateau garden became her personal concern. She went to great efforts to collect beautiful and rare plants from all over the world and to cultivate them in her gardens " (Hinz).
Redoute's first work inspired by his association with the Empress was Vententat's "Jardin de Malmaison" for which he painted 120 watercolors, but their greatest achievement is "Les Liliacees". Although Josephine did not officially sponsor the work, she did pay Redoute a large salary to enable him to complete his monumental work at leisure. Josephine herself ordered several sets and the Interior Minister Chaptal, to whom the work is dedicated, ordered eighty sets to be distributed to museums around France or used by the Foreign Minister, Talleyrand, as "Imperial gifts offered to artists, scholars, and other notables all over Europe to advertised the excellence of French arts and sciences.
Beyond the two hundred or so 'ordinary' sets of the work, an additional eighteen special copies were printed on large paper and hand finished by Redoute himself" (Mallary). "Les Liliacees" is Redoute's largest work, depicting often for the first time, specimens from the varied examples of the liliacae family as well as irises, orchids, amaryllis, heliconias, strelitzias, and agaves. All of these plants have their beauty and their fragility in common, not only was "Les Liliacees" "the first work to be devoted exclusively to this group of plants; it also had special value to botanists in providing accurate drawings and descriptions of plants that would not otherwise be easily obtained for study" (Mallary).
"Les Liliacees" represents the culmination of Redoute's artistry as a stipple-engraver, a technique that he had first used in "Plantes Grasses", but which he had learned from Francesco Bartolozzi while visiting England with L'Heritier de Brutelle. It has been claimed that Redoute introduced the art to France. Certainly the technique had not been applied to flowers before and it allowed for the first time the artist to reproduce the delicacy of a flower's form and color that had so far eluded the printer's art.
Dunthorne 231; "Great Flower Books"; Hinz "Pierre-Joseph Redoute: Life and Work" pp. 11-15 of Taschen's facsimile of "The Lilies"; Mallary "A Redoute Treasury" p. 17- 21; Nissen BBI 1597; Stafleu and Cowan 8747. C