Most of us must have seen images of Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s rose paintings as they not only hang on our walls but also decorate a huge range of merchandise for the home: mugs, trays, tea towels, lamp shades, calendars, waste bins and more. In this way he gives pleasure to millions of people throughout the world but do you know much about the man and his unusual story?
Do you know that Pierre-Joseph Redoute came from humble beginnings but in his later years was appointed court painter to Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France. Do you know that many of his rose paintings were at the request of Josephine, the one time wife of the illustrious Emperor of France who commisioned him to paint the roses in her gardens at Malmaison, Paris. Do you know that he had the opportunity to become a well-paid and highly regarded portrait painter to the French aristocracy but chose to follow his love of painting flowers or do you know he died very much in debt and his wife and surviving child were virtually penniless after paying off all he owed.
Redoute was barely known outside France when he died in 1840, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation. His paintings, especially those of his flowers, that are known to exist, and his name have become more famous in recent years and the rose paintings have become extremely popularised today, perhaps, in my opinion, to the point of detracting from their individuality and beauty.
Redoute was born on the 10th July in 1759 but not in France as is so often thought but in the village of St Hubert in the forests of the Belgian Ardennes. He was one of five children and his early years were happy but frugal. His father was a painter and decorator who had the skill to be employed in the painting and decorating of the Abbey of St Hubert. The relative poverty of the family was alleviated a little by the additional money he made painting the occasional commissioned portrait. Pierre-Joseph was taught to paint from an early age as was his father before him, so too were his two brothers.
At the age of thirteen he was expected to leave home and make his own way in the world so on 10th July 1772, his thirteenth birthday, he left home with his few possessions. The first few years were difficult but he did not starve as he managed to pay his way by painting portraits, religious or mythological pictures or whatever was wanted by those who employed him and often accommodated him as part payment. He became known as a good all round painter and could usually find work painting chateaux or the mansions of wealthy noblemen.
His father had advised him that whenever he had the opportunity to see the pictures of the great painters he should endeavour to do so. In Amsterdam he saw some of the great works of Hals, Rembrandt and Vermeer but it was the work of the great flower painter Jan van Huysum which he stared at in awe. From that time on he began to include flowers in all his paintings. He had loved plants and flowers from an early age, helping his teacher in the abbey gardens.
He gained many commissions before travelling to Paris to work with his brother painting a new theatre. From then on he and his painting flourished leading to court notoriety in later years . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . for the full story of his life and work a good read is ‘The Man Who Painted Roses’ by Antonia Ridge. His paintings of roses from ‘Les Roses’, the work including the rose paintings commissioned by Empress Josephine, have been produced in various books.; one such publication is ‘The Complete Book of 169 Redoute Roses’ by Frank J. Anderson.
It is unbelievable that many of his flower paintings are now so well known but the paintings from his first ten years of painting for a living seem to have been lost to the world!