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: Flower Prints Blossom at the Institute


Lisa Dickinson Michaux



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Art in Bloom is over, yet flowers remain in the museum. Roses, lilies, sweet peas, pansies, sunflowers, nasturtiums, and even a night-blowing cereus are in peak form in the exhibition "A Garden of Delights: 19th-Century Botanical Prints." More than 30 flower and fruit prints are on display in a show that highlights some of the greatest achievements in 19th-century botanical illustration.All of the works in the exhibition, except one, came to the museum from the collection of 8,000 prints and drawings formed by Dwight and Helen Minnich. This collection, which traces the development of fashion, zoological, and botanical illustration from the 15th through the 19th centuries, supplied the exhibition with an impressive assortment of botanicals. The one work not from the Minnich collection is Pierre-Joseph Redouté's Yellow Amaryllis, a gift from the Friends of the Institute in 1991. This watercolor is by the most famous of all botanical artists, Redouté (1759-1840), and was once in the collection of the Empress Josephine of France.Because of Redouté's prominence in the field, over half of the selections in the exhibition are by him. Examples of botanicals from all stags of his career give visitors an excellent view of the artist often called "the Raphael of flowers." Redouté's talents were discovered early on as he spent his free time sketching flowers in the gardens of Paris, and he quickly began working as a botanical illustrator. His career benefited greatly from his impressive list of patrons, the most important being Josephine Bonaparte. Her estate at Malmaison, where she nurtured one of the most fabulous gardens in France, became the perfect setting for Redouté to paint from a wide variety of exotic and more common plants and flowers.It was because of Josephine's patronage that Redouté was able to undertake his spectacular series, The Lilies. Published in 80 installments between 1802 and 1816, this monumental work contains 486 plates illustrating lilies as well as amaryllis, irises, orchids, and bromeliads. The Lilies is a pleasing blend of both botanical information and aesthetic beauty and rightly earns its title as one of the most celebrated works of flower painting. While Redoutés images rightly earn their praise, this exhibition demonstrates that there were many other botanical artists that deserve attention. Dr. Robert Thornton of England intended his Temple of Flora to be comparable, if not superior, to the great French flower books. The large-format prints of Thornton's book utilized the painstakingly arduous technique of mezzotint. To achieve these incredible results, Thornton spent his inheritance and life savings on the venture but was unable to recoup the enormous cost of his book and his family was left destitute. The Night-Blowing Cereus, with its exotic flower set against a moonlit backdrop, is one example of the uniqueness of this book. Temple of Flora was one of the first instances where the flowers were shown in their supposed natural surroundings and not against a plain background, as was Redouté's practice."A Garden of Delights: 19th-Century Botanical Prints" enables visitors to view some of the most important botanical treasures of the period. The works are not only beautiful images, but also technical masterpieces that invite you to linger in this garden and enjoy.Lisa Michaux is the John E. Andrus III curatorial intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings.This exhibition is on display in Gallery 305 until September 29, 1996.Related ImagesThe Night-Blowing Cereus, 1800
From Dr. John E. Thornton's The Temple of Flora, 1799-1807
Philip Reinagle and William Pether English
Color mezzotint with hand coloring
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Source: Lisa Michaux, "Flower Prints Blossom at the Institute: 'A Garden of Delights: 19th-Century Botantical Prints' displays more than 30 flower and fruit prints," <i>Arts</i> 19, no. 6 (June 1996): 9.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009