Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pierre-Joseph Redoute

Roses, Anemones in a Glass Vase, Pierre-Joseph Redoute
Copyright, Jim Lane
Petals, ca. 1995, Jim Lane

When it comes to floral paintings, I'm not that crazy about them. I can recall doing only two or three over the past forty-five years. One of them Petals (left) hangs in our bedroom. The others, both small, I've long since sold it. It's not that I don't like flowers. I do, very much. It's just that they tend to lose a lot of the fresh, vibrant appeal when transferred in paint to canvas. Maybe if I sprayed the canvas with rose-scented air freshener...never mind...bad idea. In studying the work of so many floral painters, the problem is, there's such a sameness to them--petals, stems, leaves, maybe a little background context. And no matter what the artist does, how creatively he or she may approach the subject, it's hard to come up with much that hasn't been done a thousand times before. That's the problem I have with the work of the French botanic illustrator, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, and all the more so in that he purposely divorced his beautiful floral specimens from any form of contextual reality. An exception, and one of the very few at that, is his Roses, Anemones in a Glass Vase (above). Still, all we have is an ordinary floral still-life.
Tulips (detail), Pierre-Joseph Redoute
Pierre-Joseph Redoute

Pierre-Joseph Redoute lived in Paris during the turbulent times of the French Revolution with the political, social, and military upheavals which followed. Born in 1759, he lived eighty-one years, until 1840. He painted and published over 2,100 plates comprising some 1,800 floral specimens (below, along with some fruits and nuts thrown in for flavor). It was a long life...a long career. It began with his running away from home at the age of thirteen, determine to make his way as a Paris portrait painter. Kids, don't try this at home (or away from home). Being an artist is a tough life, especially back then, especially while trying to cope with the onset of puberty.

Lilacs, Pierre-Joseph Redoute
Cherries, Pierre Joseph Redoute
As one might expect, given the circumstances of his youth, Redoute's art education was meager at best. However, inasmuch as both his father and grandfather were also painters, it's likely most of his early training was "home grown." In Paris, Redoute joined his older brother in painting theatrical scenery to get by. It was also in Paris that Redouté met two botanists, Charles Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle, and René Desfontaines, who encouraged him to come a botanical illustrator, a rapidly growing discipline at the time. The two taught him the rudiments as well as introducing him to members of the court at Versailles. The young queen, Marie Antoinette, liked his work, becoming his patron. Redouté eventually received the title of Draughtsman and Painter to the Queen's Cabinet. The title is unclear as to whether he actually pained on any cabinets. In any case, this led to his being tutored in botanical illustration by no less than the queen's own botanist, Gerard van Spaendonck. By 1786, Redoute was working at the National Museum of Natural History. A year later he traveled to England to study at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, near London. Thus Redoute was far removed from the chaos of the French revolution and in no danger of "losing his head" as did some of his patrons.

Iris, Pale, Pierre-Joseph Redoute
Cabbage Rose, Pierre-Joseph Redoute
Back in Paris, the new regime also liked Redoute's florals, branding him the "Raphael of Flowers." With Napoleon in power, his first wife the Empress Josephine, chose Redoute as her official artist. He also taught painting to the Empress Marie-Louise of Austria. In fact, whenever the artist taught drawing or painting classes at the museum, most of his students were aristocratic members of court or royalty. Moreover, having been made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1825, Redoute himself became an aristocratic member of the court. He died suddenly in 1840. A school in Brussels bears his name: the Institute Redouté-Peiffer in Anderlecht.

Apple, Calville Blanc, Redoute
Poppy, Choice Most Beautiful
Flowers, Paris, Panckoucke, 1827



No comments:

Post a Comment