By James Sloan Allen
from the Archives of Design Times | March/April 1997
Edited by Louis Postel
“A still life works like a piece of furniture” says designer Michael Love. Untitled oil Severin Roesen (1815-1872).
When you hang a still life on the wall, you bring more than art to a room. Much more. A still-life’s cluster of colorful fruit, its vase of lustrous flowers, its trays and serving pieces belong to the very furnishings.” Says former New York American Society of Interior Designers president Michael Love, making a still life difficult to place, she adds, but also making it her favorite type of painting to use in interior design.
A still life intimately inhabits our rooms in other ways as well. It reflects the romance of domesticity. For a still life’s images often portray an affection for home and for cherished objects that surround us, as intended by the proud burghers of 17th-century Holland and Belgium whose tastes launched the modern still-life tradition. At the same time, a still life can fondly remind us of sweet pleasures and occasions in our lives shared with other people, especially the still life composed of food. It is a valentine to dining. And no artist painted these valentines more ardently than the once-obscure German-American, Severin Roesen.
Immigration to America in 1848, Roesen spent his days painting still lifes of fruit and flowers in the sensuous Dutch manner, radiantly exuding good times amid nature’s bounty. Whose mouth would not water before his piles of glistening grapes and berries, sliced melons and lemons dripping juice, enticing apples, peaches, and plums awaiting the knife, often a goblet and bird’s eggs signaling further joys of the table? As one designer remarked, a Roesen painting such as the one above cries out to hang on a dining-room wall. At Martha Parrish and James Reinish Inc., 25 East 73rd Street, New York City.
Dying all but unknown in 1872. Roesen left exuberant canvases, now fetching six-figure prices.
JAMES SLOAN ALLEN is the author of The Romance of Commerce and Culture, University of Chicago Press.