'IRIS GERMANICA" FROM LES LILIACÉES
Pencil signed 'P.J. Redouté' bottom left, watercolor on vellum affixed to board
Sheet size: 18 15/16 x 13 5/8 in. (48.1 x 34.6cm)
Acquired directly from the above.
Collection of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais.
By descent to Prince Eugène de Beauharnais, Duke of Leuchtenberg, Bavaria.
By descent in the family.
Braus-Riggenbach and Ulrico Hoepli, Zurich, Switzerland, "Sale of the Library of Eugène de Beauharnais," May 23, 1935, lot 82.
Weyhe Gallery, New York, New York.
Sotheby's, New York, sale of November 20, 1985, no. 309.
Acquired directly from the above sale (in syndication).
Arader Galleries, New York, New York.
The Syndication in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Collection of Dorrance H. Hamilton.
Considered the greatest botanical painter of all time, Pierre-Joseph Redouté is certainly the most famous one. He was born in Saint-Hubert, now Belgium, in 1759, at a time when botany underwent a revolution, ultimately making it one of the most promising sciences of the century. Throughout the 18th century, France enriched its floral collection with many new specimens from both the Indies and America thanks to travel and trade. The newly acquired plants had immense diversity and required classification, comparison, dissection, and ultimately formal cataloging through both written and pictorial descriptions. This was necessary for official institutions such as the National Museum of Natural History, but also amongst private collectors. As an artist, Redouté quickly acquired the technical and scientific skills necessary to complete this hybrid type of work - half science, half art. Often referred to as "The Raphael of flowers," his work demonstrates undertones of the fine flower painting of 18th Century Dutch artist Jan Van Huysum (1682-1749), and of his mentors Charles Louis L'Héritier de Brutelle (1746-1800) and Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1882). Redouté's talent was quickly recognized, working for both Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) before the Revolution, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), just after, for whom, he illustrated "La Botanique" in 1805.
The present lot, as well as the following three lots, come from Pierre-Joseph Redouté's most celebrated work, "Les Liliacées" (The Lilies). It is the artist's largest single production, and, in many ways, it represents the apogee of his art. The book lists many specimens of the lily family. It includes both familiar flowers, such as the tulip or the amaryllis, as well as recently discovered plants, such as the pineapple or the yucca. Despite the title, the volumes also include plants from other families such as irises, orchids, strelitzias, agaves and heliconias. The complete work included 486 plates of different plants, published in eight separate volumes between 1802 and 1816.
While his predecessors created ornate compositions of exotic flowers, Redouté here narrows his view, and depicts single flowers and buds in very simple botanical arrangements. In each plate, the flowers are captured in the style of a standard portrait, without any background or setting. The purity of the composition ultimately allows the viewer to focus on the beauty and delicate complexity of the plant itself, without any distraction. The rendering is all the more striking, as Redouté was required to study each plant in real life; lilies for example, could not be included in collections of dried specimens due to their extreme delicacy. Jules Janin (1804-1874), a journalist and a friend of Redouté, praised the greatness of the flower artist when he wrote after Redouté's death: "This sparkling and elegant family of Liliaceae (…) it was necessary to be a man of genius to be able to describe them." (Charles Léger, Redouté et son Temps, 1945, p. 111).
Although Redouté published "Les Liliaceés" under his own name, he depended on the patronage of Napoléon's first wife, Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814). Redouté did not draw flowers from his imagination. Rather, he copied most of them after Joséphine's own flowers in her private gardens at Malmaison, which she acquired in 1798 with the intention of filling them with the rarest plants in the world. Joséphine spent vast sums of money to maintain the beautiful gardens. She surrounded herself with a staff of botanists, including Aimé Bonpland (1773-1858) and Étienne Pierre Ventenat (1757-1808), to help her collect and keep a record of the flowering species. It was in this capacity that Redouté was employed as well, producing illustrations to accompany the scientific descriptions. In order to thank Empress Joséphine for her support, Redouté presented her with all of his original drawings in the form of a bound volume. While later engravings would have sufficed for any common collector or scientist, the Empress required the original working copy.
With this book, Redouté transforms the image of the lily, transporting the flower away from its association with old mysticism and the Bourbon monarchy. Instead, he depicts the lily as an organic being, capturing its raw, unimagined beauty. Redouté's new, scientific approach to art mimicked the overall transformation of French society at that time; namely, the transition from the old French Monarchy to Enlightened Empire.
Sold for $200,000 (buyer's premium included)