A Large American Still Life Painting,
Still Life with Fruit on a Platter,
Severin Roesen Studio,
Dimensions: Frame: 35 3/4 inches x 49 inches; Picture sight: 25 3/4 inches x 39 1/2 inches
The attribution has been made by the Roesen expert, Judith Hansen OToole who wrote Severin Roesen, published 1991 by Bucknell University Press. Judiths early studies were with Bill Gerdts, the widely published expert on American still-life painting. She is currently the Director and CEO of the Westmoreland Museum in Greensburg, PA.
Ms. O'Toole has noted a painting signed S. Roesen and dated 1850 that is very similar to this one. It was exhibited at the Newark Museum in 1929 and sold by Vose Galleries at one point. Its location is currently unknown. It is 26 1/2 x 40 " and has a tomato in it! It illustrated as plate 52 in her book.
Scholars believe Roesens studio was modeled in the Old Masters tradition. A master (in this case Roesen) would compose paintings and complete certain passages while his students did the more mundane, laborious work. It is know that Lacroix was among these students and evolved into a talent arguably as competent as Roesen. There are elements in this composition such as champagne flutes (ours probably done by Roesen because its so well done) or compote repeated which is typical of their work. Judith indicated to me the better portrayed grapes were probably also by Roesen.
This style of still-life painting became very fashionable in its day. It has its roots in Dutch, and later, German style-life traditions which appealed to the evolving continental tastes of the period. Also, the subject matter was accessible to the rising middle class who identified with the abundance and prosperity implied by the subjects. Roesen exhibited and sold paintings broadly. From his NY studio work was sold in Detroit, Boston, New Orleans, Charleston, WV, Georgia and Maine.
Roesen painted his largest works while he was in Williamsport, PA and these were sold to taverns and restaurants. It was during that period that many respectable wives no longer wanted his paintings for fear there would be unsavory comparisons. The size of our painting would be another indication that it was completed in NY.
Roesens last dated painting was in 1872. Reports of poor health for the artist began as early as 1859.
(B. circa 1816. Active in the United States, 1848-1872)
It was thought Roesen was born in Cologne, Germany around 1815. The citys patron saint was St. Severin. A Severin Roesen exhibited a painting in Cologne in 1847 but that is the only possible evidence of his living there. Severin Roesen was active in the United States from 1848 to 1872, and during these years he worked in New York City and Williamsport, Pennsylvania around 1860. He spent 12 years in Willisamsport and they were considered among his most productive. Of the two hundred and fifty plus paintings known, William Gerdts, in his seminal publications on American still-life painting, refers to Roesen as a leading figure in the development of mid-nineteenth-century still life. Gerdts describes these lavishly appointed works as the ultimate embodiment of mid-century optimism, representing the richness and abundance of the land, the profusion of Gods bounty in the New World, his blessing upon the American Eden through this cornucopia of plenitude. His paintings suited American taste in that they reflected mid-19th century optimism in the richness and abundance of the nation. For many of his still-lifes, he used the popular oval format with heightened palette and detailed attention to each piece of fruit.
Even though his talent was as abundant as his subjects, the details of Lacroixs life remain relatively obscure. He was of French-Suisse origin and active in New York between 1858 and 1867. In 1867, Lacroix moved to Hoboken, New Jersey and lived there until his death in 1869. He exhibited at the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Art Association.
In Lacroixs time, educated Americans were developing tastes for European styles. Severin Roesen was a prolific and highly successful painter of the period who rode this wave by developing a variation of the late 17th and early 18th century Dutch still-life. It is thought that Lacroix worked in his studio and was the talent behind many of Roesens paintings as the differences in the artists known works are indiscernible in some cases. This is further supported by the fact that Lacroixs name appears only after Roesen left New York for Pennsylvania. This is either by coincidence or agreement. When comparing Roesen and Lacroix, critics generally agree that Lacroixs painting is highly undervalued.
To date current listings account for only a few short years of Lacroixs career.
Underwood Avenue, Greensburg, Pennsylvania 15601
Re: Studio of Severin Roesen
Fruit, China, and Glass, undated
Oil on canvas, 26 x 40 inches
The above noted painting is a still life composition in a horizontal format showing various fruits arranged
on a marble tabletop. Grapes, peaches, plums, pears, currants, apples, and various berries are arranged in
profusion directly on the dark marble surfaces and on a large white charger situated centrally in the
composition. In addition, a white epergne with strawberries and a saucer with cherries are positioned to
the right and a glass with lemon and spoon rest to the left.
The composition can be clearly identified as one associated with Severin Roesen (circa 1816-1872) who
was active in New York and Pennsylvania between 1848 and 1872. Having emigrated from Germany in
1848, Roesen established studios in New York City (1848-58) and in the lumber-mill community of
Williamsport, Pennsylvania (1860-72). In both cities he was known to have had students whom he taught
to paint in a manner very close to his own, using variations of his own subject matter and working in the
same palette and brush work. It is clear that some of these students helped in the production process of
some of Roesens own paintings as was the European tradition of studio painters.
Roesen focused on still life paintings of fruit and flowers exclusively throughout his career, developing a
style that included great attention to naturalistic detail and an interest in brilliant color. He is considered
one of the most important artists of the American still life school from the nineteenth century.
Compositional devices typical to the artist and evident in this painting include the dark background with a
shallow picture plane to set off the color and texture of his fruit subjects. The decorative vine tendrils and
grape leaves crowning the composition are also a signature element. The glass of lemonade, with the
spoon and lemon refracted through the liquid, is another device Roesen favored.
Your painting is of very good quality and can be attributed to Roesens studio with some combination of
work by Roesen himself along with evidence of work by another hand. It compares in composition to Still
Life with Fruit, 1850 (oil on canvas, 26 ¾ x 40 inches, private collection, Chicago) illustrated as plate 52
in my book on the artist. The size of the two canvases is nearly identical and the format is very similar. In
the dated piece, the fruit is arranged directly upon the table top (absent the white charger) but the presence
of the glass with lemon and spoon, quartered orange, and saucer of cherries links the two pieces. Also, the
inclusion of a tomato in both paintings is an unusual element, suggesting further that the paintings were
completed in the same year. It can be surmised that Roesen was at work on the dated piece while assisting
a student/apprentice with the example under discussion in this letter, linking the two paintings directly to
Roesens New York studio.
I hope these comments have been helpful to you.
Judith Hansen OToole
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