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Fruit and Wine Glass, 1870 Severin Roesen

(b.1815, near Cologne, Germany;
d.1872, Williamsport, PA)

Fruit and Wine Glass, 1870

Oil on canvas

Charles F. Smith Fund

1964.53

Severin Roesen (born Germany, 1815/16-after 1872)
Fruit and Wine Glass, ca. 1860-65

His studio was much frequented by his friends, who would sit all day with this genial, well read and generous companion, smoking his pipes and drinking his beer, and he was seldom without this beverage. . . . In one corner of the finished painting would always appear the faint outline of a beer glass, and when a customer objected to its presence, he would say, 'Why, do you not like beer?' and then take it out.—"August Roesen [sic], Artist: An Interesting Williamsport Genius Recalled by His Works," (Williamsport Sun and Banner, June 27, 1895)

German native Severin Roesen is most famous for his abundant fruit and flower still lifes and is today recognized as one of the major American still-life painters of the mid-nineteenth century.

A large number of Roesens were discovered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the booming lumber town where the artist lived from about 1860 to 1872. Roesen's pictures of nature's abundance found a ready market in the town's growing population (many of German descent) of prosperous merchants and lumbermen, who purchased them to adorn their newly built homes as well as taverns, restaurants, and hotels. One hotelier and brewer, Jacob Flock, owned more than fifty paintings by Roesen, which were presumably traded for lodging and for beer, the artist's favorite beverage.

While Roesen's paintings reveal a meticulous attention to detail in their precise arrangements and close brushwork, his subject matter, even down to specific motifs, did not change throughout his career. Sometimes he made near copies of paintings, but usually he merely rearranged and reassembled stock elements.

Numerous items in Fruit and Wine Glass, for example, also appear in other paintings. The footed desert plate full of strawberries is a common motif. The pilsner glass, sometimes accompanied by an open bottle of champagne, is interchangeable with a wine goblet filled with lemonade used elsewhere. The glass is nearly always placed at the lower left edge of the painting; a halved lemon often appears nearby. Branches full of grapes arranged from lower left to upper right provide the composition with a graceful S-curve and subtly lead the viewer's eye over the entire display. Here the composition is balanced by light and dark grapes at either side and filled in by scattered raspberries, cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and apricots. Many of these compositional elements, if not the items depicted, were derived from seventeenth-century Dutch still life paintings by such artists as Jan van Huysem.

Little is known about Roesen. He came to New York around 1848 and exhibited for several years there at the American Art-Union. He probably left that city in the mid-1850s, and settled in Williamsport around 1860. His whereabouts after 1872 remain uncertain.

Further reading:

Judith Hansen O'Toole, Severin Roesen (Lewisburg, Penn.: Bucknell University Press, 1992)
William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life, 1801-1939 (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 1981)

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This essay has been condensed from a larger manuscript written by Margaret Stenz for the museum's collection catalogue.


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