Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Object Details

Severin Roesen (German, American, 1815-1872; active America 1848-1871)
ca. 1848-1852
oil on canvas
Overall: 36 in x 29 in; 91.44 cm x 73.66 cm
Sally Turner Gallery, Plainfield, New Jersey; to the Fine Arts Committee through purchase
Signed at the lower right on the marble slab, "S. ROESEN"
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mrs. Shirley Akers Lowe and Mrs. Tomajean Akers Jobe
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

Object Essay

This splendid painting is probably one of Roesen’s early works after he arrived in New York City in 1848; he most probably left his native Germany because of the political revolutions in that year.1Gerdts and Burke, 61, 66, and 240 nn. 4 and 5. See also Spassky, 107–8. O’Toole will be the first monograph on the artist. The majority of his paintings exhibited from 1848 through 1852 were floral pieces like this one—tightly composed in form and color, with a crispness and clarity often lacking in his later works and without their mannerisms and sometimes oddly surreal effects.2See, for example, the very similar Still Life, Flowers, and Fruit, signed and dated 1848, in Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1: 125.

Roesen is presumed to be the porcelain painter of the same name who exhibited a floral still life in Cologne in 1847. His training is reflected not only in his choice of flowers for the Collection’s painting—the most common decoration on porcelain—but in his treatment of the motif. Placed against a neutral background, as it would be on a vase, the luxuriant bouquet is vase-like in shape, emerging from shadowy background to burgeon into light-filled opulence.       

These still lifes ultimately derive from the 17th-century Dutch tradition, which continued into the 19th century, especially in Northern Europe. It has been suggested that Roesen was influenced by Johann Wilhelm Preyer, a contemporary Dusseldorf artist, whose work is also characterized by device of the marble ledge and the predominantly linear treatment of the flowers.3Gerdts and Burke, 61.

The rich symbolic content of Dutch still-life painting, in which flowers, fruits, foods, insects, and man-made objects convey moral allegories, was no longer a central concern in the 19th century, but it had not been forgotten. It is not accidental that morning glories trumpet around the nest in which one of the three eggs is starting to hatch, or that this emblem of fertility and birth is counterbalanced by some drooping flowers and a butterfly, both signifying the brevity of life.  

William Kloss

Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.