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Redouté

Redouté

Pierre-Joseph Redoute was born in 1759 in an area near northern France. Blessed with the lineage of accomplished artists, he grew up developing exceptional artistic talent. Inspired by some of the greatest religious painters who ever lived, such as Michaelangelo and Raphael, young Redoute embarked on a career in religious art by painting various churches throughout Northern Europe.

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Redoute's artistic talents gained such popularity that he was honored by being appointed personal art teacher to, none other than, Queen Marie-Antoinette. After that, he became teacher to both wives of Napoleon -- Empresses Josephine and Marie-Louise. And after that, to Queen Marie-Amelie and Madame Adelaide. After serving as art teacher to royalty, Redoute was appointed Professor of Plant Iconography at the Royal Gardens of France. This was the most prestigious professional appointment of its kind and during his tenure he greatly enhanced the advances of Iconography and Botany. It was during Redoute's tenure at the Royal Gardens when he started producing the art that would constitute his greatest achievement. He began by producing a folio (10" x 18") edition of Les Roses in 1817 but it was so expensive to produce that even nobility could not afford to buy them. After the failure of the folio edition, the ever positive Pierre-Joseph began an octavo edition which would become his favourite project. The octavo edition brought him undisputed eminence and proved to be the pinnacle of his success. Les Roses achieved such universal acclaim that Redoute's place in history was forever set. So famous did he become that his advice was requested by aristocrats, scientists and artists from home and abroad. On the 20th of September 1828, a most unusual visitor, carrying a large and battered portfolio called to see Pierre-Joseph. His visitor introduced himself as Jean-Jacques Audubon, or John James Audubon as he was known back in America." Audubon had called on Redoute with letters of introduction in the hope of getting help in finding French subscribers for his Birds of America. Redoute would later introduce Audubon to distinguished French aristocrats, artists, writers and scientists who would comprise many of the European subscribers for Audubon's Birds. Redoute was so enthralled with Audubon's art that he lavished him with the most valuable art he could give -- a volume of Les Roses.. These prints are so valuable that the French government prohibits their exportation. So valuable are they that even if they are publicly auctioned anywhere outside of France, international law dictates that a French authority can take ownership by paying the last bid price after which the prints would be returned to France as a sacred national treasure. Single images, when they can be found, sell for $800 - $2,400 a piece. Even at an average retail price of $1,600, they are undervalued and seldom available. The original watercolors of Les Roses, from which the lithographic engravings were made, were destroyed in a fire at The Louvre Museum in Paris over one hundred years ago. Therefore, Les Roses lithographs are the only existing examples of original Redoute rose masterpieces. To say that these images are a "limited edition" is a tremendous under-exaggeration. Les Roses was produced through a process called Stipple Engraving which, although French in origin, was up to that time being perfected in England and which Redoute further perfected and reintroduced to France. This was a method of engraving in dots rather than in lines which resulted in prints that more closely mimicked the subtle color gradations of the original watercolors. Unlike line engraving, wherein there is one lithographic plate which impresses the paper with dark lines and the image impression later colored, stipple engraving required multiple plates with each color having a separate plate. Each stipple engraving plate was dabbed with color and impressed onto the paper. Since each nuance and gradation of color required a separate engraving, an image with many colors, such as a rose, required multiple plates. To further complicate matters, Redoute enhanced this intricate process by personally highlighting every image with watercolors. This was extremely tedious and time-consuming which is why stipple engraving has become a lost art -- every single print required an inordinate amount of time to produce. That's why stipple engraving print editions, such as Les Roses, were so small in number.
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