|SEVERIN ROESEN (c. 1816-after 1872) - Still Life with Flowers, c. 1862|
Signed at lower right: Roesen
In ambitious works like Still Life with Flowers, Roesen transcended the conventions of 19th-century still-life painting, forging an entirely new aesthetic that celebrated the abundance to be found in America at mid-century. The German-born artist arrived on the scene in 1848, at a time when the spare, rather austere Peale-type still life reigned among American artists and collectors. In a convergence of style and circumstances, the extravagant and highly detailed compositions Roesen created seemed to perfectly reflect the young country’s optimism and growing wealth, creating a new style whose luxurious profusion inspired students, followers, and imitators alike. Roesen is considered one of America’s preeminent still-life painters, and his crisply detailed, brilliantly colored compositions represent some of the most complex and elaborate paintings in this genre ever produced.
With its imposing presence and sumptuous detail, Still Life exemplifies the intriguing paradoxes to be found in Roesen’s work. Though individual flowers are depicted with an extreme degree of botanical accuracy, the overall arrangement was not painted from nature but composed by selecting from what scholar Judith O’Toole Hansen has called Roesen’s “mental inventory of flowers and fruits” [Severin Roesen (Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 1992), p. 29]. In the present case, Roesen creates an artificial yet highly pleasing arrangement by combining a specific set of his signature elements that includes the bird’s nest with three eggs; the vividly colored and softly rounded flowers; the transparent droplets of moisture on the flower petals; the corkscrewed grapevine tendrils; and the bunch of gravity-defying grapes that sit diagonally at the table’s edge, to name a few. The lavish arrangements in Roesen’s work ignore the logic of seasons by grouping together fruits and flowers that peak at different times of year, creating a sort of capricious natural world where the most beautiful blooms appear in their most perfect forms simultaneously - botanically impossible, but delightful to imagine all the same.
Though Roesen frequently depicted flowers arranged in glass vessels, the glass pitcher in the present work is a particularly visible element that most likely allowed the artist to demonstrate his virtuosity by adding a layer of reflectivity and spatial distortion to an already technically demanding composition. Here, the pitcher’s graceful curved handle echoes the baroque S-curve pattern created by the pale pink flowers at left. So many flowers are crammed into the pitcher that it becomes impossible to determine which blossoms are actually in the pitcher, which are spilling out, and which rest upon the table. Several flowers and pieces of fruit overhang the edge of the marble ledge, projecting into the viewer’s space and infusing a bit of trompe l’oeil feeling into the work.
Early owners of works like the present Still Life often hung them in their dining rooms, signifying their wealth, taste, and status in a very visible way. This interior decorating convention spread rapidly, establishing an enduring tradition in upscale American homes of the period. So closely associated are Roesen’s still lifes with 19th-century American taste and interior design that they are prominently displayed at the White House and in the State Department’s Diplomatic Reception Rooms, both highly visible ceremonial spaces where America’s aesthetic and artistic heritage is on display to the rest of the world.
Though Roesen rarely dated his paintings, the grand scale of the present work, its golden-tinged background, and the dark marble ledge seem to suggest that the work dates from Roesen’s years in New York (1848-58). Scholar Judith Hansen has observed that the darker grey, brown or black marbleized ledges (such as the one in the present Still Life) appear in Roesen’s earlier works, with the white marble appearing only after 1860 [Severin Roesen (1992), pp. 45, 50]. Roesen arrived in New York in 1848 already a proficient artist, familiar with the German and Dutch baroque still-life traditions that informed his style. While in New York, Roesen exhibited actively, showing his works at the American Art-Union, the Maryland Historical Society, the Hartford Agricultural Society, and possibly, as William Gerdts has suggested, at art supply stores and other display outlets as well [“Still Lifes by Severin Roesen,” The Register of the Museum of Art no. 3, vol. 5 (1973), p. 37]. By 1863, the artist had settled in the central Pennsylvania town of Williamsport, where most of the few details known of his life have been uncovered.
Noted scholar John Wilmerding, who suggests that the trademark use of roses in Roesen’s work is a form of signature in addition to the tendrilled vine with which he actually signs his name, perhaps most aptly described works like Still Life with Flowers as “an inventory of lushness…with each of nature’s creations exuberant in its individuality” [Signs of the Artist, p. 88; Important Information Inside (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1983), p.].
|Location of Origin: North America|
|Medium/Materials: Oil on canvas|
|Dimensions: 40 1/4 x 30 inches|
|Primary Classification: Antique Picture Frames and Fine Art for Sale : Antique Paintings : Still Life|
|RECORDED: John Wilmerding, Signs of the Artist: Signatures and Self-Expression in American Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 88-90, illustrated in color p. 89, fig. 73|
Roesen’s works are represented in a large number of prestigious public and private collections, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY; the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX; the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; the Newark Museum, Newark, NJ; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD; the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY; the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Pennsylvania, PA; The White House, Washington, DC; the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms, Washington, DC; and numerous others.
|Provenance: EX-COLL.: Corporate Collection, New York|
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121 Mount Vernon, Boston, MA 02108 USA
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