Editor's note: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article on February 17, 2003. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts directly through either this phone number or web address:


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Announces Acquisitions Including Severin Roesen Painting


The Abundance of Nature, the largest known oil painting by the leading practitioner of still-life paintings in America in the mid-19th century, has been added to the collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Museum announced the acquisition in mid-February, 2003.

The painting is by Severin Roesen (ca. 1815-ca. 1872). By 1855, it was hanging in the dining room at Estouteville in Albemarle County, Va., and has since descended through three Virginia families.

"This truly amazing painting will open many eyes to the story of American still-life painting, and, as such an important piece of Virginia history, it is particularly fitting that it should find its ultimate home in the state collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts," says Dr. Michael Brand, the museum's director. (left: The Abundance of Nature, ca. 1855, by Severin Roesen (American, ca. 1815-ca. 1872); oil on canvas; 56-1/4 by 40-1/4 inches (photo by Katherine Wetzel, © 2002 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts))

The aptly titled Roesen painting, measuring 56-1/4 by 40-1/4 inches, depicts a cascade of colorful flowers and fresh fruit. A small bird's nest with eggs, a basket of berries, a goblet of wine and a footed compote of plums are also shown.

In addition, says American arts curator Dr. David Park Curry, "careful inspection reveals minute details - ladybugs, droplets of water, and even the ghost of a studio window reflected in the surface of the wine goblet."

And Curry says an important element, since Roesen did not always sign his work, is his signature in vine tendrils on the lower right.

The painting is representative of Roesen's fully mature style, exhibiting his synthesis of 17th-century Dutch still life, the Düsseldorf (Germany) Academy's sharp naturalism and the era's strong interest in botany and entomology, Curry explains. Roesen was born in the German Rhineland and emigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century.

"His complex, lavish, large-scale canvases suitable for dining-room decoration established this genre in 19th-century America," Curry says.

Roesen's celebration of natural bounty would have had special resonance for the painting's original owner, Selina Skipwith Coles (1793-1870), who lived at Estouteville, a plantation renowned for its fruit trees and flower gardens.

The painting was purchased through the museum's J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art.

The museum's trustees have also approved the acquisition of a rare 18th-century Chippendale-style desk, made in Newport, R.I., as well as six Art Nouveau crystal wine glasses made in Bohemia and an early 19th-century silver sugar box made in Richmond.

The Chippendale desk added to the museum's collection was carved from mahogany by the Goddard-Townsend Group, an association of fine Newport cabinetmakers. Made circa 1765-70, it is still equipped with its original brass pulls, stands 32-3/4 inches high and is 36-1/2 inches wide by 21 inches deep. It is one of only about 50 of its type known to survive.

The desk has a molded top above a case incorporating a wide drawer and two tiers of three drawers each. The wide drawer has two projecting shells flanking a central concave shell. The fronts of the smaller drawers are blocked, continuing the sculptural projection of the blocked shells above them. A center kneehole section has a recessed, arched cupboard door that conceals a compartment with two shelves. (right: Chippendale block-and-shell carved kneehole bureau table, Newport RI, ca. 1765-70; Goddard-Townsend Group; carved mahogany, original brass pulls; 32-3/4 inches high x 36-1/2 inches wide by 21 inches deep. (photo by Katherine Wetzel, © 2002 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

Long celebrated as early America's crowning achievement in furniture design, the block-and-shell carved furniture of Newport "demonstrates the sophistication of its makers as well as the financial success of its 18th-century patrons," Curry says.

"The block-and-shell pieces remain the supreme achievement of these New England artisans of the Chippendale era," he says.

The desk was a gift of Floyd D. and Anne C. Gottwald.

The highly sculptural Gottwald family desk "demonstrates how craftsmen of Newport took the block-front idea much further into aesthetic realms, endowing it with a sense of architectural poise," Curry says.

"With this single acquisition, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is able to articulate one of the most important regional differences between the furniture makers of Newport and those of nearby Boston."

The desk is now on view in the American Galleries.

John Le Tellier, who made the elegant silver sugar box just added to the museum's collection, was active in Richmond from 1790 to 1820. The sugar box, acquired from a Charlottesville estate, is believed to have been crafted between 1815 and 1820. It measures 15-1/2 by 12 by 7-1/2 inches and weighs 12-1/2 ounces. Curry says the piece "has a sculptural presence that belies its modest size."

In 1810, Le Tellier, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, created the now-famous tumblers popularly known as Jefferson cups. The retired president tried to entice Le Tellier to move to Charlottesville, but the craftsman declined. At that point he had added responsibilities as Richmond's Keeper of the Poorhouse and Keeper of the City Magazine.

The sugar box was purchased through the museum's Floyd D. and Anne C. Gottwald Fund.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

Copyright 2012 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.