Redouté Choix 1835, Pl. 134, Lady's Slipper Orchid
Original Antique Print
12 1/2" x 9 1/4" (approximate)
Hand-colored stipple engraving
Choix des Plus Belles Fleurs, 1835 Edition
Comprising a total of 144 plates printed in color and finished by hand, Redouté's Choix des plus belles fleurs et des plus beaux fruits, or Choice of the most beautiful flowers and most beautiful fruits was originally published in 36 parts, each consisting of four plates in a wrapper, with the addition in the last part pages of explanatory text by A. Guillemin.
"Choix des plus belles fleurs appeared in 1827 and, as its name indicates, is Redouté’s selection of his favourite flowers and fruits. It includes several delightful bouquet arrangements…. For its variety and sheer beauty, this must be the zenith of Redouté’s achievement.” (Gordon Dunthorne, Flower and Fruit Prints of the 18th and early 19th centuries, 1938, page 32.)
Considered to be a French artist, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759—1840) was born in the village of Saint-Hubert, now a part of Belgium. The descendant of a long line of painters, he was first trained by his artist father, Charles Joseph Redouté (1715—76). At the age of 15 he left to make a living as an itinerant painter and decorator. In 1782, his elder brother, Antoine Ferdinand Redouté (1756—1809), a highly regarded decorative artist, invited him to join him in Paris, and together they worked as set designers for the Italian Theater of Paris. While in Paris, he began sketching rare plants at the Jardin du Roi. At the Jardin du Roi (now the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle), where his artwork was noticed by the Linnaean botanist Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle (1746—1800) and the Dutch flower painter, Gerard van Spaëndonck, Royal Professor of Painting, who is recognized for developing the watercolor technique that Redouté later popularized. Pierre-Joseph Redouté was mentored by both L’Héritier and van Spaëndonck.
In 1786, Pierre-Joseph Redouté spent a brief period in England where he was introduced to the stipple-engraving technique. Employed at that time primarily for portraiture, it is a process of incising minute depressions in a copper plate forming a field of dots rather than lines. Stipple engraving is sublimely suited to conveying the subtle tonal gradations of watercolors. Pierre-Joseph Redouté, who is credited with perfecting this technique said, “The process which we invented in 1796 for color printing consists in the employment of these colors on a single plate…. We have thereby softness and brilliance of a watercolor.” The dynamic realism he achieved surpassed all previous attempts at color botanical printmaking. In recognition of this valuable contribution, Pierre-Joseph Redouté was awarded a medal by Louis XVIII.
On the eve of the French Revolution, Pierre-Joseph Redouté was named to the position of Draftsman to the Cabinet of Marie Antoinette. Remarkably, he not only survived the Revolution, but attracted the patronage of Josephine Bonaparte (1763—1814) in a seamless transition from the royal court to the French Republic. In 1798, Josephine Bonaparte acquired a grand estate, Malmaison, and began to fill its gardens with the rarest plants that the old and new worlds could furnish. With Josephine's patronage, Redouté published his monumental folio, Les Liliacées, 1802—16, and Les Roses, 1817—24. Many of the examples depicted in Les Roses are from Josephine Bonaparte’s gardens at Malmaison, as well as from other significant gardens of that time. In 1830, under yet another French queen, Marié-Amelie, Redouté became peintre de fleurs de cabinet de la Reine. He continued working as a flower painter, publishing his last botanical folio in 1836.
References: Redouté's Fairest Flowers, Martyn Rix and William T. Stearn, 1987; B. B. Woodward, Journal of Botany, volume 43, page 29—30, 1905; Sacheverell Sitwell, Great Flower Books 1700—1900, page 129, 1990.
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