Redoute Revisite


When photographer Saxon Holt came to town a few months ago, I told him that I was planning an exhibit of botanical art at Eureka Books, the antiquarian bookstore we bought in December.  We have an event called Arts Alive on the first Saturday of the month in Eureka; all the businesses in Old Town stay open late, pour a little wine, exhibit a little art, and generally have a good time.  Eureka Books had always stayed open late on Arts Alive, but the store had never hosted an exhibit of any kind before we bought it.

So we’ve been putting up some kind of book-related art every month.  Botanical art seemed like a perfect fit since this art form began as book illustrations. In particular, I was excited about bringing in some of Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s hand-colored stipple engravings of roses that he did for the famous book Les Roses, which was published in the early 1800s under the patronage of Josephine Bonaparte.

Saxon told me that when he was hired to photograph roses for  two Smith & Hawken rose books, 100 Old Roses for the American Garden and 100 English Roses for the American Garden, he was inspired by Redoute.  If you think about it, it’s not so easy to photograph a rose flat against a white background.  RoseHoltbefore_2 blossoms face up, but to do a good illustration you need them to face toward the viewer, not toward the sky.  You also need perfect examples of the rose in full bloom, in bud, and perhaps going to seed.  Finding all of this on one stem is not easy.  Botanical illustrators often had to piece together bits of a plant to get the perfect specimen. So that’s what Saxon did.

On the right, you can see a "before" shot of the dismembered rose.  He assembled these on location, in the rose garden where each rose in the book happened to be in bloom, often working in makeshift studios in someone’s garage.  The roses were pieced together with tiny bits of clay, and the clay was also used to gently lift the leaves and petals off the background to create pleasing shadows behind them.

And here’s the final result.

Saxon has done a signed limited edition set of prints from the books on gorgeous watercolor paper.  I picked them up over the weekend; they’re in the store now.  Over the next few days I’ll be cataloging and pricing this and other botanical art, from modern  California artists to rare  200-300 year-old botanical engravings, for our  show.  We’re holding a preview party Friday night and the big event is Saturday night, both to benefit the Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation, an organization that is in the process of building a botanical garden here in Humboldt County.

So–it’s summer, the garden’s overrun with weeds, and I’m inside working with pristine botanical works on paper. Not a bad deal, all in all.  You can read more about our exhibit here.


  1. Fascinating – what garden photographers actually do. I got to watch Rob Cardillo in action and it was as much about creating the shot as taking it. Then he let me take some quick shots of my garden with his super-wide-angle camera and I’ve been suffering from wide-angle-envy ever since. Might have to spend some serious money to get me one.

  2. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing the before and after photo. That is so interesting. It makes me appreciate the rose book photography so much more now. I just wish I lived closer so I could come to the event!

  3. Way cool. When I was in Amsterdam earlier in the year, I went to Rembrandt’s house museum. There was an exhibition of botanic work by Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) – books, prints and original pieces. She was amazing in that she was not only a fine artist cataloging insects (specifically caterpillars, butterflies & moths) and plants but she was a woman way ahead of her time – an accomplished business person, self-publishing engraver, mother, scientist (classifying new insects), and a world traveller (when women weren’t world travelers). Her collections of engravings were popular among the wealthy of the time. I have a new appreciation for scientifically -inspired botanical art.

    Have a good time at your Arts Alive event(s). Don’t drink too much.

  4. Hello Amy,
    I wish I had the time to drive up to Northern California to see your antique art books.

    I have a copy of Pierre-Joseph Redoute’s Liliacees that Sotheby’s published in 1985 in preparation for their auction of the original watercolor folios.

    I would be happy to loan it to you for your upcoming exhibit.
    It is in excellent condition.
    I have posted three photographs from the book on my blog along with a link to this site about your exhibition. –


  5. Susan: You can use graphics programs (like Photoshop) to stitch together your digital images to make panoramas. Heck you can do a full 360-degree view. It’s not hard to do by hand in a crude way. And there are additional programs to help you do a more sophisticated job.

  6. I really, really would love to come this weekend! Sounds so fun. And how interesting how he photographed that rose…by the way, do you know what rose that is? It’s gorgeous.

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