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Object Details

Severin Roesen (German, American, 1815-1872; active America 1848-1871)
After 1852
United States
oil on canvas, mounted on masonite
Overall: 29 1/4 in x 44 1/4 in; 74.295 cm x 112.395 cm
Signed, with the vine tendril, in script, at the lower left center "S Roesen" (the letters "SR" in the form of a monogram)
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Pennington Sefton
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Object Essay

After his first years in New York City (1848–52), Roesen moved to Huntington, Pennsylvania, via Harrisburg, and thence to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where, so far as we know, he spent the remainder of his life. His patrons there were newly wealthy timber merchants who were quintessentially Victorian in their love of overwhelmingly detailed, relentlessly decorative paintings of cornucopias of fruit. His paintings after 1852 are nearly impossible to date since his style shows little change. Although his Williamsport patrons, many of German descent, commissioned or bought an abundance of Roesen’s paintings, his departure from New York cut him off from other artists and his influence was slight. Only in recent decades has his art become widely known.1Gerdts and Burke, 61, 66.

In the elaborate works typical of his career, Roesen often introduced a two-tiered marble tabletop, not rendering an actual table but conjuring one as an artistic caprice. In the Collection’s example, he brought considerable organizational competence to bear on the greengrocer’s pile he chose to paint.2“Nature’s Bounty,” as the painting has been known, is not an inappropriate title, yet there is no certainty that Roesen used it. It has been attached to so many of his paintings that it is virtually useless in the identification of specific works. The two levels of the large rectangle are joined together by the implicit diagonal running from the stem of berries at the lower left through the grape leaf and tendrils at the upper right. In addition, a second compositional form is introduced: a horizontal oval defined by the light within which clusters of white grapes alternate with rounded fruit such as peaches. The bottom of that oval is emphasized by the convex curve of the table, which is then reiterated by the curves of the watermelon slice and the ceramic fruit basket. 

This painting is signed, in script, at the lower left center, “S Roesen” (the letters “SR” in the form of a monogram), with a vine tendril underneath. Signing the work with a tendril of the grapevine is a Roesen characteristic, an elegantly self-conscious touch that has undoubtedly helped boost his appeal in the contemporary art market. His name disappears from the Williamsport directories after 1872, the year of his last dated painting. It has been suggested that he died while returning to New York City, but no firm evidence exists.3Spassky, 108.

William Kloss

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.