Napoleon, the Empress & the Artist

The Story of Napoleon, Josephine’s Garden at Malmaison, Redouté & the Australian Plants


Napoleon and science? Napoleon the intellectual? Napoleon with his boot pushing a spade? Napoleon the artistic gardener in his own vegetable patch? Napoleon and Australia? Josephine and Australia? Josephine a grande dame of botany. a patron of botanical art? These are concepts seldom associated. But Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, while searching for the colour plates of the Australian flora painted by Pierre Joseph Redouté, found an unexplored side of Napoleonic France


This book is a great example of a high quality Australian-produced work and a delight to read, or just to browse. The author, Jill, Duchess of Hamilton, is a former Australian journalist who has spent many years abroad where she formed an enduring fascination with conservation through horticulture. In 1994, she founded Flora-for-Fauna, a charity devoted to growing garden plants to help Britain’s wildlife.

During her time in France, she began writing on Napoleon’s family and discovered the unexpected link between Napoleon and his great interest in the arts, sciences, and Australian flora and fauna. She has also made available to English readers for the first time, information on the role the French played in describing and promoting our flora and fauna. In Napoleon, the Empress and the Artist, for example, she has chosen around 90 pictures by the great French botanical artist PJ Redouté (better known as a painter of roses), the largest number of Redouté paintings of Australian plants ever included in one book. Her contention is that while the British collected many plants in Australia and even grew hundreds of them in glasshouses, they did nothing to describe and promote these plants. The French, however, thanks largely to the patronage of Napoleon and his wife Josephine, produced ten major volumes between 1790 and 1833 in which over 400 Australian plants were described and illustrated.

Reprinted from the December 2000 issue of Growing Australian, newsletter of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria).

Reviewed by Tony Cavanagh