How Pierre-Joseph Redouté Became a Legend

Pierre-Joseph Redouté is arguably the most renowned floral illustrator in history.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) came from a family of painters.  He left home at the ripe old age of 15 which was customary back then.

He traveled to Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg.  To earn a living, he accepted commissions doing interior decorating, portraits, and religious work.

But it was the floral art of Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) and Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) that opened up a whole new life to Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

In 1782, he went to Paris to work with his brother as a stage designer.  In his spare time, he practices painting plants.

His favorite place to hang out was the Jardin du Roi. Known now as the Museum of Natural History. Not only did Pierre-Joseph Redouté paint from the collection, but the museum offered classes.  He caught the attention of one of his instructors, Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1822).

Gerard van Spaendonck was a Dutchman and his flower engravings were pretty impressive.

Gerard made Pierre-Joseph his assistant and before you knew it, Pierre-Joseph Redouté was creating some pretty impressive botanical work.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s most important created period started in 1789/1799 when Napolean’s first wife Josephine bought Malmaison chateaux in Rueil, south of Paris.

He painted plants in the Royal gardens of Paris using a technique of applying color to etchings by hand. His etchings were vibrant and detailed and attracted the attention of some influential patrons. 

Redouté even managed to attract the attention of Queen Marie Antoinette who selected Redouté to decorate the walls of her small palace.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté
Illustration created using Portrait of Pierre-Joseph Redouté oil on canvas (public domain)

Pierre-Joseph Redouté – Painter for the Empress

Arguably, Redouté’s most famous patron was Empress Josephine, Napolean Bonaparte’s first wife.

In 1798, Empress Josephine purchased the Château de la Malmaison while Napolean was away (at great expense).  Rumor has it Napolean wasn’t all too pleased with his wife’s purchase, but apparently, Empress Josephine didn’t care.  Instead, she set out to create a garden unlike any other in Europe. 

During Josephine’s day, the garden at Malmaison had over 250 varieties of plants and 200 types of roses. An astounding figure even by today’s standards.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté was invited to paint the plants in the gardens at Malmaison, immortalizing the garden for history.

Empress Josephine Knew Talent When She Saw It

Josephine was so impressed with Redouté’s talent, that she soon named him the “Painter to the Empress”. One of his most famous works was Les Roses, a collection of images of his favorite flower, the rose. Working on Les Roses allowed Redouté to visit Malmaison often.

Les Roses was published in 3 volumes between 1817 and 1824. The book contains an image of the rose “Souvenir de la Malmaison”, a rose still grown today which commemorates Josephine’s garden and the island of Martinique where she was born.

Portrait of Empress Josephine with Malmaison in the background

Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s painting of the rose Souvenir de la Malmaison (pictured below) is an incredible botanical print. The painting is so realistic and detailed, it is easy to understand why he became the “Painter to the Empress”.

Botanical illustration of Rose Souvenir de la Malmaison by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (photo credit: Wiki commons public domain)

Below you can see a photograph of the rose Malmaison in real life.

Rose Malmaison (Photo credit: Wiki Commons Author: Huhu)

There’s no doubt in my mind that Empress Josephine understood the importance of capturing quality images to immortalize her garden.

I’m certain if she was alive today, she’d be posting pictures of her garden on Instagram. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy a few more examples of Redouté’s botanical prints.

Pierre-Joseph Redouté’s Botanical Illustrations

Rosa Centifolia by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (photo credit: Wiki Commons public domain)
Rosa Gallica Pontiana by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (photo credit: Wiki Commons public domain)
Rosa Damascena Celsianna by Pierre-Joseph Redouté (photo credit: Wiki Commons public domain)
Rosa Gallica Flore Giganteo by Rosa Gallica Flore Giganteo by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Thanks for reading my article I hope you enjoyed this snippet about garden history.

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