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 Percival Leonard Rosseau  (1859 - 1937)

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Lived/Active: North Carolina/Connecticut/Louisiana / France      Known for: sporting dogs, birds and other animal in landscape paintings

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Ad Code: 2
Percival Leonard Rosseau
from Auction House Records.
Two Setters in a Cooling Stream on the Grounds of Overhills, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born of French descent in Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana, on September 21, 1859. His father and two older brothers were killed during the Civil War; his mother had also died, and the Union General W. T. Sherman destroyed the family plantation during the Mississippi campaign.  Rosseau and his sister were rescued by a slave, and the two were raised by a family friend in Kentucky.

Rosseau was educated in a private school and taught to shoot and fish by his guardian.  He began working at seventeen, trying his hand at various trades to earn a living for himself and a dowry for his sister.  He worked as a cowboy along the Chisholm Trail from Mexico to Kansas for six years, then purchased a stand of timber with an eye toward entering the lumber business.  The venture failed when the logs sank to the bottom of the river, while he was rafting them along the water.  He eventually owned an import business which provided him with enough income that he retired at age 35, leaving the business in the hands of a partner and sailed to Paris, France to study art at the Academie Julian.

His painting of a pair of Irish wolfhounds won such acclaim at the 1904 Paris Salon exhibition that his destiny as a painter of dogs was cast.  Returning to the United States, he found a ready market for his work among wealthy gentlemen sportsmen. He captured the "tense action of hunting dogs and usually showed them in a romantic landscape."

Rosseau headed west from California.  On the ship from San Francisco to Honolulu he met Nancy Bidwell and they became engaged before they landed.  The newly engaged couple stayed in Hawaii as guests of friends made on board until her vacation ended, at which point she returned home to Chicago, IL, and he went on to Japan and points west.

Arriving finally in Paris, he entered the Académie Julian.  While there he studied under Jules Lefebvre and Tony Robert-Fleury.  He married after settling in Paris; when his partner in his import business emptied the company accounts and fled to Brazil in 1898, it was Nancy's dowry that enabled the couple to stay in France so that Rosseau could continue his studies.  Not having the patience to flatter a portrait sitter, he began his studies painting classical subjects, but after a picture of Diana with two wolfhounds met with acclaim he adopted sporting dogs as his sole subject.

Although he remained in France until 1915, Rosseau made several trips to the United States to exhibit and fulfill numerous commissions; his skill in depicting the sporting dog in the field put him very much in demand, and his paintings remain among the most sought-after of their kind.

When he was compelled by the onset of the First World War to return to the United States permanently, he settled in Lyme, CT, and took part in the Old Lyme artists' colony.  He also spent time at the estates of his wealthier patrons, who invited him to shoot and paint on their properties; notable among these was Percy Rockefeller. Rockefeller lent Rosseau his dogs for use as models and built a studio for him to use during the late fall, winter, and early spring at Overhills, his private hunting club in Fayetteville, NC.

Rosseau was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Lotos Club in New York City, and the Lyme Art Association.  He exhibited at the Paris Salon, the Lyme Art Association, and prominent galleries in New York City and elsewhere.  He painted a foxhunting scene that was reproduced in A. Henry Higginson's Two Centuries of Foxhunting.  His painting titled In the Woods is at the University of Rochester (NY) Memorial Art Gallery; Beginning the Day is at the Hecksher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY; the paintings Pointer Dogs and  Hunting Dogs are in the Columbus (OH) Museum of Art.

Rosseau died in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on November 29, 1937.

Sources:
Wildlife Art, September 2003
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
Russell Fink Gallery biography: http://www.russellfinkgallery.com

Biography from Brunk Auctions:
Percival Rosseau’s contribution to fine art with his portraits of sporting dogs is the last chapter in a life that included the disparate experiences of cowboy, lumberjack, and businessman, but always in the company of dogs.  It was not until he was in his mid-thirties that Rosseau decided to pursue a career in art.  Traveling from New Orleans to France in 1894, he enrolled at the Academie Julian in Paris.  He later associated with several artists who worked in the French Barbizon style, noted for its soft, romantic landscapes.

Rosseau initially painted French landscapes and classical figures, but to limited financial success.  In 1903, however, he created a pivotal work that changed his life: a painting of Diana the huntress with two Irish wolfhounds.  At the Paris salon where it was exhibited, the painting attracted considerable attention—most of it directed to the dogs.  From then on, Rosseau decided to concentrate almost exclusively on canine subjects.  The artist recalled, "A man should paint what he knows best, and I knew more about animals than anything else. I have ran [sic] hounds from childhood, and have at my fingertips the thorough knowledge of dogs necessary to picture them faithfully."

Rosseau portrayed almost all sporting dogs ‘on point.’ He avoided a stiffness in his compositions and kept his paintings lively by using freely-worked backgrounds and soft shapes and textures to create movement, a technique influenced by the Barbizon School.

News of Rosseau’ talent spread, especially among wealthy American sportsmen, and eventually most of his commissions came from the United States.  For a number of years he and his family commuted between France and the United States, dividing winters between Connecticut and North Carolina.  In Denton, North Carolina, he took advantage of quail hunting, using dogs that he owned and trained himself.  At the outbreak of World War I, the family moved permanently to Connecticut.

Among those attracted to Rosseau’s sporting art was Percy Rockefeller (1878-1934), businessman, hunter, and a nephew of John D. Rockefeller.  In about 1920, Rockefeller and a group of investors had acquired over 20,000 acres in Cumberland County, North Carolina.  There they established a country club, Overhills, and built an elaborate hunt complex with stables and kennels.  Rosseau befriended Rockefeller, whose patronage led, in the 1920s, to a cottage for Rosseau and his family on the property.  Rosseau painted hunting scenes in this cottage in the 1920s and ’30s.

Another of Rosseau’s patrons was Samuel G. Allen (1870-1956), who commissioned End of a Perfect Day, depicting two of Allen’s dogs, Flag and Queen.  A lawyer and industrialist, Allen had gained first-hand experience on the railroad in a variety of jobs directly after leaving college.  He then entered the railroad supply field. By the end of World War I, he was connected, as an officer or director, to a number of railroad-
related businesses.

In commerce Allen was dedicated to the railroad; in his personal life he was devoted to sporting dogs.  In 1917 he helped established the Amateur Field Trial Clubs of America (AFTCA), and in 1922 he and others founded the English Spaniel Field Trial Association (ESSFTA), an organization that eventually set the American standards for the breed. Although his primary residence was in Rye, New York, Allen leased land in Denton, North Carolina, for quail hunting and shuttled his sporting dogs between the two locations. Between 1929 and 1932 he had a hunting lodge, dog kennels, and other buildings constructed in Pinehurst, Moore County, North Carolina.  He leased an additional 9,000 acres adjacent to this property—all for the purpose of quail hunting.

Although the circumstances surrounding the acquaintance of Allen and Rosseau are unknown, the two could have met during the war years in Denton, North Carolina. Rosseau was also involved with field trials, which would have provided an alternative opportunity for the two to interact.  And both Allen and Rosseau belonged to the coterie of sports hunters from the North who gathered in a milder clime during hunting season.

Information provided by Laura Crockett, Brunk Auctions

Biography from Red Fox Fine Art:
Excerpt from Animal and Sporting Artists in America by F. Turner Reuter, Jr. © 2008:

Percival Rosseau was born in Pointe Coupée Parish, LA, on 21 September 1859. Rosseau's family was of French descent and operated a farm, originally based on a land grant from Louis XIV in the Louisiana territory, until the outbreak of the Civil War. During the war, Rosseau's father and two older brothers were killed; his mother had also died, and the Union General W. T. Sherman laid ruin to the family holdings during the Mississippi campaign. Rosseau and his sister were rescued by a slave and the two were raised by a family friend in Kentucky. Rosseau was educated in a private school and taught to shoot and fish by his guardian.

He began working at seventeen, trying his hand at various trades to earn a living for himself and a dowry for his sister. He worked as a cowboy and cattle driver in Texas and along the Chisholm Trail from Mexico to Kansas for six years. The Panhandle of Texas in which he worked cattle was abundant in wild game, especially the Texas panther, or mountain lion, which prompted Rosseau in 1878 to send for hounds from Louisiana of the same French bloodlines originally from Normandy, the Franc Comptoise, that his ancestors had imported at the time of the original land grant. Rosseau developed a pack with these hounds and hunted the panther for a number of years, until he left the area in the early 1880s, at which time he gave approximately thirty couple to various local ranchmen. These hounds were, without a doubt, the first scenting pack, which hunted in the Southwest.

Rosseau next purchased a stand of timber with the intention of entering the lumber business, but the venture failed. This did not discourage him unduly; by the time he was thirty-five he owned an import brokerage business in New Orleans, LA, which provided him with enough income that he decided to go to France to study art, leaving the company in the hands of a partner.

Instead of taking a ship across the Atlantic, Rosseau headed West from California. On the ship from San Francisco, CA, to Honolulu he met Nancy Bidwell, on whom he kept a guardian's eye at the captain's request and to whom he became engaged before landfall. The two stayed in Hawaii as guests of friends made on board until Bidwell's vacation ended, at which point she returned home to Chicago, IL, and Rosseau went on to Japan and points West.

After arriving in Paris, France, around 1894, he enrolled at the Académie Julian and soon thereafter married Bidwell, who had journeyed there to meet him. While there he studied under the painters Jules Lefebvre, Charles Herrmann-Léon, and Tony Robert-Fleury painting the nude figure, and winning an honorable mention for one of his paintings of this subject in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. When his New Orleans import business partner emptied the company accounts and fled in 1898, it was Nancy's dowry that enabled the couple to stay in France so that Rosseau could continue his studies.

Not having the patience to flatter a portrait sitter, he executed a picture of Diana with two wolfhounds, which met with critical acclaim in 1903. Rosseau's next exhibit was in 1904 at the Paris Salon, showing a painting of two setters which sold immediately. He exhibited again at the Salon in 1906 a life-size composition done from memory showing his own pack of fifteen and a half couple killing a panther in Texas, which won a third-class medal and launched his commercial career as a sporting and animal artist. Although he remained in France until 1915, Rosseau made numerous trips to the United States to exhibit and to fulfill orders for commissions, including his 1913 portrait of a pack of foxhounds belonging to Joseph B. Thomas, M.F.H, in full cry across Percy Rockefeller's Overhills plantation in Fayetteville, NC.

When he was compelled by the onset of the First World War to return to the United States permanently, he settled in Lyme, CT, and took part in the Old Lyme artists' colony. He also spent time at the Southern estates and hunting grounds of his wealthy patrons, where he took part in upland game pursuits and executed commissions for them. Among these was Percy Rockefeller, who loaned Rosseau gun dogs for models and built a studio for the artist to use during the gunning and field trial season. In 1925 Rosseau was again commissioned by Joseph B. Thomas, this time to paint two large portraits of his pack of hounds, each of which were set at Overhills and depicts the pack working out a line in the foreground with huntsman, staff, and field in the background set among abandoned cotton fields and piney woodlands.

Some of Rosseau's paintings were reproduced as photogravures; examples include his 1923 works Pointers in the Field and English Setters in the Field, published and remarqued by Arthur Ackermann and Son of New York City in 1925, and signed in pencil by the artist.

Rosseau also executed etchings in the early 1930s, preparing and striking the plates in his own studio; these images were titled and signed by the artist in ink. Examples include: Cooling Off, Bill's Covey and Partners. Brown & Bigelow, printers of advertising posters, prints, and calendars of St. Paul, MN, published reproductions of these three etchings.

Rosseau was a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Lotos Club in New York City, and the Lyme Art Association. He exhibited at the Paris Salon, the Lyme Art Association, and prominent galleries in New York City and elsewhere. The Orlando (FL) Museum of Art, The Columbus (OH) Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts all have examples of his work. The University of Rochester (NY) Memorial Art Gallery has In the Woods; the Genessee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, NY, has Setter in an Open Field; the Hecksher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY, has his Beginning the Day: Pointer Dogs; the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in St. Louis, MO, has Setter in the Field; and the Columbus (OH) Museum of Art has Hunting Dogs.

Rosseau died in Fayetteville, NC, on 29 November 1937.

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