Victorian Bouquet, c. 1850–1855
Severin Roesen, American, born Germany, c. 1815–c. 1872, active in United States, 1848–1872
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 36 1/8 × 29 in. (91.8 × 73.7 cm) Frame: 47 3/4 × 42 1/2 × 6 3/8 in. (121.3 × 108 × 16.2 cm)
Museum purchase funded by the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund

Habits of Mind

  • OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
  • COMMUNICATE Verbalize ideas, thoughts, feelings / ask provocative questions / ask for support

Writing about Still Lifes

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

• Determine sequence of activities need to carry out a procedure.

•  Use elements of the writing process to write a procedural text.

•  Orally describe their own paintings using descriptive words, synonyms and antonyms

GRADE LEVEL

4

SUBJECT AREA

Language Arts

HABITS OF MIND

Observe Details

Communicate

Connecting to the Work of Art

Victorian Bouquet depicts a lavish bouquet of morning glories, irises, dahlias, poppies, roses, and foxglove.  The flowers are arranged in a vase on a marble table against a plain, dark background, alongside a bird’s nest with three eggs, and a stemmed wine glass.  Roesen’s composition includes flowers that bloom at different times of the year.  In fact, it would have been impossible to assemble such an array of flowers.  Thus, a painting that appears highly realistic is actually a fiction created by the artist.

 

Roesen paid meticulous attention to details of petals, leaves, and even glistening dewdrops and reflections in the glass.  This still-life arrangement also gave the artist a chance to show his skill at painting many textures – glass, petals, eggshells, and leaves – with the utmost realism.  The contrast between the dark background and the brilliantly hued flowers is theatrical.  Roesen’s style is a combination of the naturalistic and the dramatic and was influenced by Dutch still-life painting of the seventeenth century.  For additional information about Dutch still-life painting, see Willem Claesz. Heda’s Banquet Piece with Ham.

 

Born in Germany, Severin Roesen trained as a porcelain enameler in Cologne.  He probably immigrated to the United States during the 1848 political upheavals in Germany, as he sold two paintings to the American Art Union that year.  His still lifes were very popular, and he sold nine more paintings to that organization before it closed in 1852.  Shortly after 1855, Roesen moved to Pennsylvania and eventually settled in Williamsport, a small city with a booming lumber industry.  There his paintings were enthusiastically commissioned and purchased by wealthy residents.

 

During the past decades scholars have identified more than 100 of Roesen’s works.  About two-thirds of his paintings are still lifes of fruit, and the other third are floral arrangements.

 

The still life tradition achieved an increasingly important role in American painting during the mid-nineteenth century.  Many German still life artists, including Severin Roesen, came to the United States where their work enjoyed great popularity.  The vibrant and realistic rendering of each floral detail and texture was very appealing to the early Victorian audience.  This growing interest in still life painting coincided with an expanding and prosperous middle class in cities and led to a broader patronage of art.

Observations

  • Imagine Roesen arranging objects for his still life.  Discuss the composition, focusing on the choice, placement, and contrast of shapes, textures, and colors.  Describe the mood and how the artist created that mood.
  • Describe the types of flowers, leaves, fruit, and other parts of nature you observe.

  • Investigate this work of art using your senses to discover what you might touch, taste, hear, and smell. Support with evidence from the work of art and how your senses would be engaged.

  • Curl your hand to create a cylinder, and place it over one of your eyes to simulate a spyglass. Using your “spyglass”, explore all areas of the painting to uncover surprising details on the leaves, in the glass, on the fruit, etc. Explain how those details add to the realism of this arrangement.

  • How does the artist’s details depict texture? If you were able to touch parts of this work of art, how might they feel? Examine the lines, colors and shapes the artist uses to denote these textures.

  • Select a color and trace it throughout the work of art. Repeat. How does the artist use color to create unity and balance?

  • Explore the dark background. Why the artist would choose such a dark background in this work of art? Explain.

  • A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects that may be either natural or man-made.1 Evaluate why this painting would be categorized a still life, citing examples from the work of art.

1Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_life

Interpretations

  • Categorize the flowers into groups based on observed physical characteristics such as size, color, and leaf shape.

  • The artist, Severin Roesen, painted this still life over the course of 5 years, from 1850-1855. Hypothesize why the floral subject matter might dictate a longer period needed to complete this work of art.

  • How does this still life, which appears so real, actually reflect a fictional arrangement?

  • Assess the different stages of the flower life cycle depicted. Select varying flowers from the work of art, and sequence floral growth from the bud to maturity. How does this variety add to the visual impact of the arrangement?

  • Why would Roesen include a nest filled with eggs?

  • Compare this still life arrangement with another still life found in the museum’s collection. One example could be Willem Claesz. Heda’s Banquet Piece with Ham found at https://lta.mfah.org/LessonPlans/LessonPlan/LessonPlanDetails/3152.

  • If you were to create a still life, what commonplace natural and man-made objects would you include?

Assessment

•  Generate a list of synonyms, antonyms, and descriptive words for the objects in the students’ paintings.

•  Have students write and article describing the procedure used in setting up a still life, explaining choice and arrangement of objects, value contrasts, size relationships, unity, and variety.

•  Have students orally describe their own still-life drawings to the class using synonyms, antonyms, and descriptive words to evoke the texture, smell, sight, and arrangement of the elements, as well as the mood of the pastel drawings.

Subject Matter Connection

In reading and writing, attention to detail is important. By observing Victorian Bouquet and its familiar subjects, students can put into practice the art of observation. These observation skills can be repeated and re-emphasized throughout the school year when students observe works of art, read, or prepare to write. Because the subjects of Victorian Bouquet are familiar, students should be more comfortable about communicating their thoughts and verbalizing their ideas about this work, skills that carry over into both group and independent language arts practice activities and assessments.


The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.