The Era of Pierre Joseph Redouté

by Jutta Buck

with Cynthia Rice

Among the names of flower painters none is more famous than that of Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), who received the patronage of French Royalty and other dignitaries interested in botany and floriculture. Redouté was born into a family of artists at St. Hubert in the Ardennes. He left home at 13 and after traveling through Holland and Flanders, studying flower paintings by the Dutch and Flemish masters, he joined his older brother in Paris. In this new environment, he became acquainted with the botanist L'Heritier de Brutelle who taught him the basics of botany and later commissioned him to illustrate many of his botanical books. It was at this time that the great Dutch artist Gerard van Spaendonck (1746-1822), a professor of flower painting at the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, became Redouté's mentor and teacher. Among the most celebrated books, illustrated with stipple engravings, finished by hand after Redouté' s drawings are, Les Liliacees (1802-1816), Les Roses (1817), and Les plus belles fleurs (1827). He also contributed to many other publications, aside from those of L'Heritier, including Etienne Pierre Ventenat's (1757-1808) Jardin de la Malmaison (1803-1805) and La Botanique de J.J.Rousseau (1805). Many of Redouté's finest paintings on vellum are in the collection of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, as are those by van Spaendonck.

Gaillarda pulchella by Gerard van Spaendonck. Watercolor on vellum, 1784. Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris

Other contemporaries of Redouté were Pierre Francois Turpin (1775-1840) and Pierre Antoine Poiteau (1766-1854) who was both a botanist and botanical artist. Turpin and Poiteau had met by chance at San Domingo where Poiteau had been studying the local flora. Poiteau, recognizing the unique talent of Turpin, successfully convinced the latter to devote the rest of his life to botanical art. A year later, in 1801, Turpin traveled to New York where he met the German naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Both Turpin and von Humboldt joined Poiteau in Paris in1802 where the three men engaged in a very successful association for many years, jointly illustrating important publications of the first part of the nineteenth century, particularly those of von Humboldt and Bonpland (1773-1858).

Cynancherum arybel by Pierre Francois Turpin. Grey wash drawing on paper, n.d.

A popular work published in Paris in 1768 by Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau (1700-1782) was the Traite des arbres fruitiers, illustrated with one hundred and eighty copper engravings by various artists. A new and enlarged edition of this title, considered one of the finest works on fruits ever produced, was issued from 1808 to 1835. This second edition consisted of six volumes with a total of four hundred and twenty-two superb plates of fruits that were printed in stipple and colored by hand after drawings by Turpin and Poiteau.













(L) Pompelmouse ordinaire from Traite des arbres fruitiers, Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, Nouvelle edition, Paris (1807-), Paris 1835. Artist, Pierre Francois Turpin. Stipple engraving printed in color and finished by hand

(R) Pomme Selieur  from Traite des arbres fruitiers, Henri Louis Duhamel du Monceau, Nouvelle edition, Paris (1807-), Paris 1835. Artist, Pierre Antoine Poiteau. Stipple engraving printed in color and finished by hand

Stipple engraving was invented in France in the 18th Century, but further improved by Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815) when he was in England.  The process is the same as in etching, but with dots rather than lines, piercing the prepared plate with small holes using the etching needle or a simple roulette. The basic element of stippling is the creation of tone by gathering dots and short strokes.

Another notable artist of the era was Pancrace Bessa (1772-1835), known for the illustrations to the Histoire des arbres forestiers de I 'Amerique septentrional. This work by Francois Andre Michaux (1770-1855) was published in Paris from 1810 to 1813. Another of Bessa's works was Flore des jardiniers, amateurs et manufacturiers, which was illustrated with 389 engravings colored by hand and published in Paris in 1836, after his death. Many fashionable almanacs, embellished with stipple engravings colored by hand after drawings by Bessa were issued by Charles Malo from1815 through 1821. Bessa contributed to many other publications with drawings or as an engraver. Some of Bessa's original drawings are among Les Velins du Roi in the Musem National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.




  • Crocus sativus from Choix des Plus Belles Fleurs, Panckoucke, Paris 1827. Artist, Pierre Joseph Redoute. Stipple engraving printed in color and finished by hand
  • Paeonia by Pierre Joseph Redoute. Watercolor on vellum, n.d,.Museum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris.
  • Fraisier de Virginie, unknown publication. Artist, Pierre Antoine Poiteau. Stipple engraving printed in color and finished by hand
  • Gordonia pubescens L'Héritier by Pancrae Bessa. Watercolor on vellum, n.d. (1810-), HI Art Accession no. 0058. Courtesy of Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
  • Rosa Gallica from Herbier General de l'amateur, Audot, Paris 1810-1827. Artist, Pancrae. Bessa. Stipple engraving printed in color and finished by hand