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 French and Latin on lower half; legend below identifying P.J. Redouté as painter and Lemaire as engraver (tiny cuts on right edge, minor spotting near bottom).
The present stipple engraving comes with full margins showing the page number in the upper right corner, a rare sight in existing Redouté works today. This engraving provides a true-to-life portraiture of the exquisite Tiger Lily, whose name actually refers to the jaguar, and indicates the flower’s resemblance to the animal’s golden orange color and black spots. This beloved lily species originates from East Asia, where it was grown for at least a thousand years, partly as a food, before being introduced to Europe in 1804, when bulbs were transported to Kew from Canton (Mathew, 44).
The Tiger Lily also has rich literary resonance, having been personified in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In their whimsical fantasy tales, both writers endow the Tiger Lily with the impressive human characteristics of haughtiness, passion, and glamour.
The Tiger Lily plant in the present composition floats elegantly in space, without background or setting, thereby allowing the viewer to focus without distraction on the delicate complexity of the plant itself. The exotic beauty of the Tiger Lily is marvelously rendered. We see its resplendent petals curling outward like ribbons, and dotted with an intricate jaguar pattern visible down to each individual black spot. There are also the stout, dark purplish stem; the crisp, curving leaves; and the glinting black-purple axillary bulbils that cover the stem.
The main life-size illustration is accompanied by Redouté’s small anatomical drawing of the stamen, placed below. This enables the flower to be identified with precision and cultivated to perfection.
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.
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.