A fine stipple engraving with original hand color and full margins
from the folio edition of “Les Liliacées” by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759 - 1840)
21 x 14 inches sheet. Fine stipple-engraved plate in colors. L’imprimerie de Didot Jeune. Paris, 1802 - 1816. Annotation with names in Latin and French on lower half; legend below identifying Redouté as painter and de Gouy as engraver (tiny tears along left edge, 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.
The eight-volumed “Les Liliacées” is perhaps Redouté’s most celebrated work, which he issued while under the patronage of the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. This collection of 486 plates records the plants of the Lily family, and related flowers, that Josephine collected and cultivated in her magnificent gardens at Malmaison. Likely no more than 220 copies were produced (Brian Mathew, 8).
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 comes with full margins, a rare sight in existing Redoute works today. This engraving provides a true-to-life portraiture of the gorgeous North’s Neomarica, otherwise known as Walking Iris, North’s false flag, or Apostle Plant. This breathtaking flower is an unusual member of the Iris family. Its name, Neomarica, comes from the Greek words for new (neo) and the Roman word for nymph (Marica). It is a clumping perennial that originates from Brazil, and can be identified by its striking multi-colored petals and its long, pointed leaves. Its flowers bloom off and on in spring, summer, and fall, and thrive in dappled or bright shade. When growing, the weight of these flowers causes the plant’s stem to bend to the soil, where the flowers take root and causes a new plant to grow. This fascinating method of self-propagation gives the illusion that the plant “walks around” the garden as it spreads, thereby earning it its other name, Walking Iris.
The Walking Iris in the present composition floats elegantly in space, without background or setting. The regal simplicity of the composition allows the viewer to focus without distraction on the delicate complexity of the plant itself. The exotic beauty of the plant is marvelously rendered, with its finely detailed white, yellow, and blue petals that call to mind a cross between an orchid and an iris, and its tall and sword-shaped leaves. The main life-size illustration is accompanied by Redouté’s small anatomical drawing of the flower’s pistil placed below, which enables the 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.