Object Lesson: Rosa Alpina Vulgaris by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Rosa Alpina Vulgaris, 1817-1824, Stipple engraving, hand colored, Gift of an anonymous donor, 2011.28.5

Pierre-Joseph Redouté has been called the greatest botanical artist of all time. Although he received little formal education in his youth, through a series of apprenticeships, mostly in Paris where he moved at the age of 23, he acquired skills as both a painter and a botanist. He arrived in Paris in 1782, an auspicious time for a newcomer as revolution was on the horizon. Nevertheless, his skill and charm, the latter of which was the stuff of legend, allowed him to successfully navigate, and even prosper in one of the most tumultuous times in the city’s history. In fact, he was championed by the matriarchs of multiple French regimes: first by Marie-Antoinette, and after her demise, by Empress Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.

This print comes from a publication that was produced later in his life, a three-volume set titled simply Les Roses, that was comprised of engravings based on paintings and watercolors Redouté had produced over his long career. His attention to detail was vital: his paintings were often as highly valued for the scientific merit as for their aesthetic value. For this reason, he most often worked only from live specimens, not from preserved, pressed samples. His paintings were purchased by Kings, Queens, and Emperors, but he was also employed at the French Academy of Sciences, and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs, Prints, and Drawings

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