Rose Mania

Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840), Rosa Gallica Granatus, 1817-24. Photo: Sotheby's London

The tulip-mania of the seventeenth century is well known. The financial sector and banking system hardly survived the speculation in tulips. The rose-mania in France in the early years of the nineteenth century is far less known, likely due to the fact that the interest was mainly concentrated on decorations, gardens, paintings and drawings and not on speculation. France became the centre of the world of roses, a position it held for the whole rest of the century.

Roses emerged as fashionable decorative motif during the heyday of Madame de Pompadour after 1750. Painted on furniture or porcelain, woven into fabrics, women with roses in their hair, or garlands of roses in their hands, roses appeared everywhere. Rose gardens became very popular, social and literary organsations. The Rosati adopted the rose as a symbol of natural beauty. The aristocracy and later the Napoleonic dynasty devoted themselves to the rose. Empress Josephine acted as a catalyst for the development and introduction of new roses at Malmaison, her estate, although her gardens and plants were quickly lost after her death in 1814. In 1815, after the restoration of the monarchy, all the great gardens belonging to members of the royal family had fine collection of roses.

By 1820 the rose was firmly established as queen of the flower-garden. This was far from self-evident, since tulips, irises, lilies and pinks populated the gardens and served as decoration in the seventeenth- and eighteenth centuries. The precise reason of this sudden popularity is not known. It could be that rose-breeding was bowled over by the introduction of several old garden roses from China. The beauty, smell and the many rose-varieties (by 1828 a French botanist listed 2 562 species in France alone) will have contributed to the popularity as well. Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759-1840) was the most celebrated botanical artist of his day. The ‘Raphael of flowers’ had close connections to French court life and aristocratic families, before, during and after the French revolution. The owners of his water colours Les Roses read as a ‘who is who’: Princess Maria Carolina Luisa de Bourbon, Duchesse de Berry, Princess Teresa Cristina de Bourbon, Empresse de Brasil, Isabel, Princess Imperial de Brazil, Prince d’Alcantara d’Orleans-Bragance, Lionel and Philip Robinson and finally Frederick 2nd Lord Hesketh, whose family sold the water colours in December 2010 to a new owner. Source: Sotheby’s, Magnificent Book, Manuscripts and Drawings from the Collection of Frederick, 2nd Lord Hesketh Part III (London 2010).