Magazine article The Spectator

Gather Ye Roses

Magazine article The Spectator

Gather Ye Roses

Article excerpt

Can there be many spare bedrooms in the country that do not have at least one, and probably four, prints of Redoute rose engravings hanging on the walls? I know ours does. People who do not think they know the name of a single botanical artist will have heard of Pierre-Joseph Redoute, the 19th-century Belgian-born artist who did so much to instil the French (and later the English) with an enduring love for the rose.

He did this by painting roses most faithfully and sensitively, in watercolour on vellum. These paintings were then engraved, using the copper-plate technique called 'stipple engraving', for inclusion in the three volumes of Les Roses, which were published between 1817 and 1824. This engraving technique beautifully emulated the complexity and tones of the original watercolours. (By the by, one of the finest of modern botanical artists, Bryan Poole, also employs this technique. ) Redoute achieved his early fame against a background of revolution in France. He was originally court painter to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, yet managed to survive the Terror, emerging once more into the limelight as artist to the Empress Josephine, for whom he painted a series called 'Les Liliacees' (1802-16). Her garden at Malmaison boasted 10,000 roses in 500 varieties, grown in clumps along a stream and in greenhouses.

She died in 1814, not long before Waterloo and Napoleon Bonaparte's downfall, so never saw Redoute's Les Roses published.

He originally intended to paint 100 roses; in the end, so many interesting species were coming in from overseas that the final tally was 170. During these years, the Bourbon rose was introduced from the Ile de Reunion, and became an instant success because of its capacity to flower more than once in the season, while 'Hume's Blush China' (called Rosa indica 'Fragrans' by Redoute, see illustration, right) was brought back from China and became one parent of the Tea Roses, of which 'Lady Hillingdon' and 'Mrs Herbert Stevens' are the best known in this country. Claude-Antoine Thory, parliamentary lawyer-turned-botanist, wrote the erudite text for Les Roses. Only two roses were painted in the Malmaison garden; most came from other gardens around Paris, including Thory's.

In 1828, having fallen on harder times, Redoute sold the paintings for 30,000 francs to King Charles X. The King gave them to his widowed daughter-in-law, the Duchesse de Berry, a mad-keen rosarian after whom a deep-pink, fragrant Gallica rose is named. …

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