AN ART LOVER's GUIDE TO CAMBRIDGE - 'Paeonia Suffruticosa', Pierre-Joseph Redouté, 1812, Fitzwilliam Museum
Private gardens are bursting into colour and with the National Trust and RHS preparing to reopen some of their gardens next week, it is time to turn our art lovers’ eyes to flowers. What better way to do this than to return to the Fitzwilliam Museum which boasts one of the most important collections of flower paintings and drawings anywhere in the world.
Here we see the beautiful Paeonia suffruticosa by the French artist Pierre Joseph Redouté (1759-1840), one of the finest botanical draughtsman of his age. Born in Belgian into a family of artists, Redouté moved to Paris in his early 20s where he learnt the art of flower painting. He became known for his botanical accuracy as well as his balanced compositions and subtle variations of tone, all of which can be seen in this drawing. Look at the lush pink petals of the flower, the perfectly gradated green leaves and the placing of the flower on the page. It is little wonder that he has been called ‘the Raphael of flowers’.
Redouté not only possessed extraordinary artistic skill, but he must also have had great powers of tact and diplomacy as he had the distinction of working for both Marie-Antoinette, as Draughtsman and Painter to the Queen’s Cabinet, and for the Empress Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, as her official artist. The latter commissioned Redouté to paint the flowers grown at her chateau at Malmaison where she had an extensive collection of roses, lilies and rare plants including this Paeonia suffruticosa.
The watercolour is from an album of 72 works by Redouté bequeathed to the Fitzwilliam in 1973 by Henry Rogers Broughton, 2nd Lord Fairhaven, whose family once owned Anglesey Abbey. The museum director at the time described Lord Fairhaven’s gift as an act of “breathtaking generosity”. Having already given 37 valuable flower paintings to the museum in 1966, on his death seven years later Lord Fairhaven left the museum another 82 oil paintings, 38 albums and about 900 drawings of flowers on paper and vellum. It was a legacy that transformed the museum’s collection and which will last long after the summer blooms are over.
Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840) "Paeonia Suffruticosa", 1812, watercolour with body colour over traces of graphite on vellum, 46 x 34 cm, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
All posts written and researched by Sarah Burles, founder of Cambridge Art Tours. The 'Art Lover's Guide to Cambridge' was sent out weekly during the recent Covid 19 lockdown while Cambridge museums, libraries and colleges were closed.