Hudson River Museum (HRM) has announced the gift of two exquisite paintings: Gloucester, Stage Fort Beach, 1849, by Fitz Henry Lane; and Fruit with Water Glass, ca. 1850–70, by Severin Roesen; both works were generously donated to the HRM’s collection by Shelley and Felice Bergman. These major works of nineteenth-century landscape and still-life painting will augment the Museum’s extensive collection of American paintings, sculptures, works-on-paper, photographs, and decorative arts from the nineteenth century to today. Both paintings represent artists new to the Hudson River Museum’s collection, located in Yonkers, New York.
For their debut, the two paintings are now prominently displayed in the Cycles of Nature: Highlights from the Collections of the Hudson River Museum and Art Bridges, which will be on view through February 12, 2023. The paintings appear alongside works in the Museum’s collection, including those by Berenice Abbott, Jeremy Dennis, Asher B. Durand, Richard Mayhew, and Barbara Morgan. Also on view in the exhibition are paintings by Lee Krasner and George Bellows, as part of an ongoing partnership with Art Bridges.
“These paintings by Fitz Henry Lane and Severin Roesen are extraordinary gifts that elevate the Hudson River Museum’s collection,” said Director and CEO Masha Turchinsky. “They are stunning to experience in person and they fulfill important mission-driven goals to strengthen the Museum’s holdings, while expanding the connections we make with the public. We are deeply grateful to Shelley and Felice Bergman for recognizing and supporting our commitment to community and to American art. At a pivotal moment in which we are constructing a beautiful new West Wing and new galleries overlooking the Hudson, we will be extremely proud to share these works with present and future generations.”
Laura Vookles, Chair of the HRM’s Curatorial Department, stated, “I cannot overstate the impact these masterpieces and these artists will have on the collection and on the stories we tell in our galleries. They have already inspired new interpretations of other collection paintings and photographs in the Cycles of Nature exhibition. I am looking forward to the countless ways we will display and discuss these magnificent paintings for all, from our youngest visitors to the scholarly community.”
“We wanted to ensure these gifts would have a home where they would be appreciated and could serve the widest possible audience,” stated the Bergmans. “It mattered to us that the Hudson River Museum is extremely committed to strengthening the community through its educational mission. We are excited that these cherished works by Fitz Henry Lane and Severin Roesen will be used as teaching tools and to spark new conversations for generations to come.”
Fitz Henry Lane’s (American, 1804—1865) Gloucester, Stage Fort Beach, 1849, is a masterful example of the mid-nineteenth-century development of the Hudson River School termed Luminism, in which artists meticulously painted effects of light specific to different times of day. Lane’s expanse of light-filled sky, taking up over half the canvas, and the mirror-like bay that reflects it, are classic elements of the style. The artist's refined use of color, nuances of tinted light, and crystalline surfaces of calm waters presage the hallmarks that would come to define Lane’s unique and celebrated pictorial vision. Earl A. Powell, an American art historian and museum director, wrote that Lane's works, "so eloquent in their prophetic silence, depict a moment in time as if frozen, and evoke a mood of transcendental silence that is an important reflection of the American imagination at mid-century."
The painting depicts the site where English settlers first landed on Cape Ann in the 1600s and is now a state park. Lane shows the rocky granite boulder for which the beach is named and further defines the foreground with beautifully and delicately rendered plants and shrubs. The artist's keen attention to detail is evident, from the rigging of the Gloucester sloop and brig on the placid harbor to the houses peeking out from the brush of the far shore. Lane shrouds portions of the foreground in shadow and bathes the remainder of the scene in a soft, pervasive light as the curvilinear shoreline leads the viewer to the vast horizon.
Lane was born Nathan Rogers Lane in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where his father worked as a sail maker. Paralyzed from the waist down at a young age, he was not able to participate in the mercantile pursuits of his father's business. Yet, well-versed in the anatomy of ships, Lane spent countless hours in his father's studio, carefully drafting the intricate details of hulls, rigging, and sails. In 1831, he changed his first and middle names and the next year moved to Boston, to pursue employment with Pendleton's Lithography, the best known lithography firm in the city. Influenced by the marine paintings of English-born artist Robert Salmon (1775–ca.1845), who was working in Boston, Lane took up oil painting; and harbor scenes such as this ensured his legacy as the preeminent marine artist of the mid-nineteenth century. His paintings and prints are in many collections, including those of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Farnsworth Art Museum.
Severin Roesen (1815– ca. 1872) Fruit with Water Glass, ca. 1850–70, depicts a bowl overflowing with apples, plums, and grapes of all hues, yet the yellowing edge of one grape leaf and an insect eaten hole in another remind us that still life paintings embody underlying references to cycles of nature. Elaborate still lifes like this trace their lineage to seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century Dutch Old Masters, whose paintings of nature’s bounty signified wealth but also hinted at the ephemeral nature of these possessions.
Roesen trained as a china and enamel painter in Prussia (now Germany) before becoming one of many German refugees from the 1848 peasant revolutions in Europe. He lived in New York City before settling down in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Familiar with European still life traditions and skilled in high standards of craftsmanship, Roesen became one of the best known and most prolific American practitioners of the genre. His hyper-real still lifes were seen as representing nature’s abundance and the sanctity of the New World and graced many dining rooms in the homes of collectors who recognized his exceptional skill. During his lifetime, he exhibited his works at the American Art-Union in New York, Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and at the Brooklyn Art Association; and his lasting legacy includes a large number of paintings discovered in Williamsport, where he spent so many years of his life. Roesen’s work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Following the Cycles of Nature exhibition, the paintings will be part of a multi-year reimagination and reinstallation of the Museum’s collection.