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Severin Roesen

(c. 1815—1872)


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(probably 1815 or 1816–72 or later).

Painter. A still life specialist, he is known for opulent displays of flowers and fruit. Wine glasses, pitchers, and additional tableware frequently also appear, and occasionally landscape is visible in the background. Spearheading the American taste for luxuriant still lifes based on Baroque precedents, these works celebrate the earth's abundance and the nation's increasingly comfortable standard of living. However, Roesen's habit of combining perfectly ripe fruits and mature flowers, regardless of the season to which they actually belong produces a whiff of unreality. A native of Germany, where he may have been trained as a porcelain painter, he apparently worked in Cologne. The style he imported updates seventeenth-century Dutch still life tradition for a Victorian audience, probably at least in part through the example of nineteenth-century Düsseldorf intermediaries. Around 1848 he arrived in New York, where he resided until relocating to central Pennsylvania in 1857 or early the following year. He worked in Huntington, and perhaps elsewhere, before settling a few years later in Williamsport. He disappeared from the historical record in 1872. In the intricate and unusually large but nevertheless representative Still Life: Flowers and Fruit (Metropolitan Museum, c. 1850–55), blossoms and fruits establish a lively, colorful pattern across the canvas. At the same time, each specimen captures with utmost fidelity the coloring, texture, and three-dimensional form of its botanical species. Exemplifying a device common to many of his works, natural elements hang over the front edge of the table, enhancing the illusion of spatial volume by seeming to push into the spectator's space. The bird's nest with eggs and the glinting reflection of a window in the glass vase number among a repertoire of virtuoso devices that Roesen often repeated.

Subjects: Art.


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