Pierre-Joseph Redouté was a Belgian painter famous for his botanical illustrations. Working as Marie Antoinette’s court painter, passing through the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, a turbulent political period, he was able to survive and consolidate his work and his name. The artist was often nicknamed the “Raphael of flowers” and regarded as the most significant botanical illustrator of all time.
Redouté was born in July 1759, in Saint-Hubert, Belgium. He was born into a family of artists, his brother was a scenery designer and interior decorator, and both his father and grandfather were painters. He never had a significant formal education and left home at the age of 13. During this time, he was living as an itinerant painter, doing religious commissions, portraits, and interior decoration. Eventually, around 23 years old, he made his way to Paris in order to join his brother in painting scenery for local theaters.
In Paris, he met the botanists René Desfontaines and Charles Louis L’Héritier de Brutelle, who steered Redouté towards botanical Illustration, a discipline that was rapidly growing. L’Héritier became his teacher, instructing him on how to dissect flowers as well as portray them with precision. He also introduced Redouté to members of the court at the Palace of Versailles, following which he became under the patronage of Marie Antoinette herself. Redouté was eventually awarded the title of Painter and Draughtsman to the Queen’s Cabinet.
Redouté was noticed by distinguished Dutch botanical painter Gerard van Spaendonck, who also became his teacher, especially regarding the handling of the watercolor technique. In 1786, Redouté began to work cataloging the collections of fauna and flora of the National Museum of Natural History and also participated in botanical expeditions. He left France for one year, in order to study plants at the Royal Botanic Gardens, in Kew, England. Redouté was employed by the French Academy of Sciences, and in 1798, he came under the patronage of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte’s first wife. Redouté soon became her official artist.
Upon the Empress’ death, Redouté would go through some financial difficulties, until he was appointed to the National Museum of Natural History, during the year 1822. In 1825, he was knighted as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the highest possible honor to receive from the French government.
Although famous by his botanical illustrations, Redouté’s production at the end of his life was made solely for aesthetic purposes. He continued to paint and teach until June 19, 1840, when he suffered a stroke and died, with 80 years of age.