Paulette Victorine J Van Roekens (1896-1988)

Paulette Victorine J Van Roekens (1896-1988)

Paulette Van Roekens was born outside of Paris in Chateau-Thierry, France, on New Year’s Day of 1896 to Victor and Jeanne Van Roekens, who moved their family to the United States and settled in Glenside, Pennsylvania soon after their daughter’s birth. Despite emigrating, the Van Roekens’ maintained a thoroughly French household: French was the spoken language, and they made frequent trips to their homeland before the outbreak of World War I. In Glenside, Victor Van Roekens established a nursery, which undoubtedly encouraged his daughter’s life-long love of nature and flora, a love that she would share with her future husband and fellow artist, Arthur Meltzer.

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Van Roekens began her artistic studies in 1915 at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now the Moore College of Art & Design), where only a year later, she earned the John Sartain Fellowship and fostered a close relationship with the academy’s dean, Harriet Sartain, who became a career-long patron of Van Roekens’ work. The artist continued her education at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which acquired an early painting by her for its permanent collection. Having completed her studies, Van Roekens began teaching at the Graphic Sketch Club in 1920 and continued through 1927. In 1923 however, she accepted a position at the Moore College of Art & Design as an Assistant Professor of Drawing & Painting. This move would have lasting implications beyond her career, for at Moore College she met Arthur Meltzer, a fellow artist and faculty member. After working together for a few years, the two married on June 15, 1927. Soon after, they purchased a derelict stone farmhouse with acreage in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and set about rehabilitating the house and landscaping the grounds with large gardens and groves. Meltzer and Van Roekens had two children, but both maintained their faculty positions at Moore College and pursued their painting careers. Van Roekens retired from Moore in 1961 after nearly forty years of fine art teaching, at which point the college awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Alongside her husband, Paulette Van Roekens became a leading member in the last generation of Pennsylvania School Impressionists. The Pennsylvania School, also known as the “New Hope School,” flourished in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, among artists dedicated to combining the stylistic principles of French Impressionism with an interest in memorializing the American landscape. These intentions resulted in works featuring thick brushwork that captures both the picturesque and real-world scenery of the area. An artistic descendent of Edward Redfield and Daniel Garber, Van Roekens adhered to many guiding principles of the Pennsylvania School, and expanded the historic art tradition by not only adopting the American landscape as her subject matter, but also capturing the festive nature of American life. 

During her career, Van Roekens exhibited at prestigious venues including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Carnegie Institute, the National Academy of Design, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Her work was highly praised by critics and collectors, earning gold medals at both the Plastic Club in Philadelphia in 1920 and the Philadelphia Sketch Club in 1923. She also received awards when showing at the Woodmere Art Gallery in 1946 and with the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Today, her vibrant depictions of the joy and vitality of American life can be found in public collections including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and the Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia.

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