Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840)
444: Musa paradisiaca (Banana).
Original Watercolor on vellum
Vellum size: 19” x 14”; framed size: 29” x 23 1/2”
Country of Origin: Cultivated in all tropical parts of the world. Parent species indiginous in southeast Asia
Literature: In Kos (March, 1986), 3: 50; Marianne Roland Michel, The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Exh. Cat., Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut, 2002), 83.
Exhibitions: The Floral Art of Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Bruce Museum, Greenwich (2002); Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (2002-2003).
THE FINEST WATERCOLOR OF A BANANA IN THE WORLD
Pierre-Joseph Redouté 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.
Born into a family of artists in the Belgian Ardennes, Redouté’s talents were recognized and encouraged from an early age. His Flemish origins were significant to his development as a botanical painter for it was in the Netherlands that the genre truly flourished. The eventual recognition of still life painting in France was primarily due to the arrival of Dutch artists, such as Gerard van Spaendonck and Redouté, who popularized the field.
In 1782, Redouté arrived in Paris, his entrée eased by his brother, Antoine-Ferdinand, who had already established himself in the city and had achieved some success as a decorative painter. Redouté was quickly attracted to the greenhouses of the royal Jardin des Plantes and it was during a drawing expedition to the Jardin that he enjoyed a chance meeting with the noted amateur botanist and collector of rare plants, L’Héritier de Broutelle. L’Héritier taught Redouté about the dissection of flowers and their scientific representation, and commissioned him to participate in the illustration of his Stirpes novae ... This was a crucial turning point in Redouté’s career, increasing the young artist’s interest in the science of floral illustration and leading to his involvement as a founding member of the Linnean Society of Paris. His institutional affiliation brought him the position of painter to the Cabinet of Marie-Antoinette, allowing him access to the Trianon gardens and providing an introduction to Gerard van Spaendonck, Flower Painter to the King. This Master was to teach Redouté the technique of painting on vellum and in ca. 1875, he produced several works for the famous Vélins du Roi under Spaendonck’s direction. By his own account, his student’s work was finer than his own.
Redouté had, as pupils or patrons, five queens and empresses of France, from Marie-Antoinette to Jo- séphine’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.