Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Belgian by birth and French by adoption, was a genial, gentle man with blunt fingers and 'a head as round as a Dutch cheese: But, more importantly, he was one of the greatest flower painters who ever lived.
Redouté spent a lifetime in the service of botanical science and royal patrons of art. Successively he worked for Queen Marie Antionette, the Empress Josephine (he helped with planning the gardens of Malmaison), the Empress Marie Louise, Charles X and Louis XVIII, all the while illustrating the works of many famous botanists and inventing a colour printing process for which he was granted a patent.
But the queen he remained loyal to all his life was a queen who never went out of fashion: the rose.
Little is known about this painting except that it was painted for Redoute's friend Balzac, the French writer. The rose is a 'cabbage' (Centifolia) called Grand Choux Hollandais, originally grown, as the name suggests, in Holland.
These blowsy, pale lilac blooms may well have been painted to celebrate a new lilac variety, which first bloomed at Malmaison for the Empress Josephine, and which has since become a favourite around the world.
Redouté has portrayed his roses as a delicate posy with primulas. The combination is unusual for this great flower artist, and almost certainly identifies this picture as a painting of a posy from the shop of Madame Prevost, an exclusive Parisian florist and friend of Redouté.
Some 11,000 engravings and paintings are credited to Redouté plus innumerable flower drawings and studies.
Napoleon once met Redouté in the park and asked him why he had chosen such a narrow field for his paintings. His reply to Napoleon was characteristic. 'It was my work that made me ¬I never had a sufficient education to be a famous painter of history. Therefore, like Caesar, I wanted to be a master in a less elevated sphere.