Single sheet (21 x 14 inches, full margins showing the plate mark), float mounted and framed. A fine stipple-engraved depiction of a Spanish iris plant with original hand-color in full.
Plate number 337 from Redouté’s “Les Liliacées,” which was published in 80 parts between 1802 and 1816. The fleur-de-lis, which has been a symbol of France since the twelfth century, is a stylized iris. Redouté 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 Redouté 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).
Redouté’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 Liliacées.” Although Josephine did not officially sponsor the work, she did pay Redouté 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 Redouté himself” (Mallary).
“Les Liliacées” is Redouté’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 Liliacées” “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 Liliacées” represents the culmination of Redouté’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 Redouté 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 Redouté: Life and Work” pp. 11-15 of Taschen’s facsimile of “The Lilies”; Mallary “A Redouté Treasury” p. 17- 21; Nissen BBI 1597; Stafleu and Cowan 8747.