Severin Roesen (1815-1872)

Severin Roesen (1815-1872)

For all of his productivity, and for the considerable impact he made on American still life painting, very little is actually known about Severin Roesen. It is believed that he was born in the Rhineland of Germany and came to New York in 1848, in the wake of political upheaval in Germany. The American Art Union distributed eleven of his pictures between 1848 and 1852. In about 1857 Roesen appears to have abandoned his family and moved to Philadelphia. By 1862 he was settled in Williamsport, where he spent ten years painting and, apparently, teaching. Tradition has it that he left Williamsport in 1872, but nothing more is known after that date.

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For an artist who is so obscure, hundreds of still life paintings survive. He is best known for his large compositions that portray a profusion of fruits, flowers, and decorative objects. Like Dutch and German still lifes of the 18th century, Roesen’s compositions are synthetic, combining elements together that would have been observed from life at different seasons through the year. These have been interpreted as embodying mid-19th century optimism, representing “the richness and abundance of the land, the profusion of God’s bounty in the New World...”.[i]

Roesen influenced a generation of American still life painters with his German brand of meticulous realism and bright color, and also with his distinctive still life elements such as birds’ nests and curling grape stems.

References: Judith Hansen O’Toole, Severin Roesen (Cranbury, NJ: Assoc. Univ. Presses, 1992). See also William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1981).​

[i] William Gerdts, Humble Truth, p. 87.

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