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
- DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence
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.
• Dissect and name the different parts of flowers.
• Classify the parts of flowers into categories.
• Create a chart to present the data gathered.
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.
• Study Victorian Bouquet. Research and name the flowers portrayed. What characteristics help identify the flowers? Find examples of the artist’s realism, his careful observation and attention to detail.
• How does Roesen use contrast, color, and line to make his composition dramatic? Describe the mood of this painting.
• Bring to class fresh-cut or wildflowers gathered by the students. In cooperative groups, study the flowers, compare their characteristics, and learn the classify them.
• Dissect each flower, correctly naming the individual parts. Draw and label diagrams of the parts of the flowers.
• Create charts to show the different classifications of flowers.
• Compare the ways a scientist observes, records, and classifies flowers to the ways an artist arranges, observes, and paints a floral still life.
Resources Available to Order
The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.
The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.