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 Paeonia Suffruticosa, watercolour by Pierre-Joseph Redouté

In 1805, Redouté was named flower painter to the Empress Joséphine Bonaparte. She had a great love of rare plants, which she cultivated in her garden at the Château de Malmaison. This watercolour was made for the Empress and featured in Bonpland’s Descriptions de plantes rares et cultivées à Malmaison et à Navarre.

A Chinese source as early as 536 A.D. gave the original habitat of the paeony as Eastern Szechan and Shensi in Western China. The first variety to reach Europe was planted at Kew by Sir Joseph Banks in 1789. Joséphine had a specimen from 1803 at Malmaison and grew two varieties there. The detail shows a well formed seed head before it has reached full maturity.