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 August H. O. Rolle  (1875 - 1941)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia/Minnesota      Known for: landscape paintings, coastal views

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Ad Code: 3
August H O Rolle
from Auction House Records.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS, WASHINGTON MONUMENT
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following text was written and submitted by Robert S. Fastov:

August Herman Olson Rolle was born to Norwegian immigrant parents on a farm in Sibley County, Minnesota on March 30, 1975 and died in Washington, D.C. (“D.C.”) on October 9, 1941.  He attended Red Wing Seminary in Red Wing, Minnesota, studying business and law until 1892.  He worked for the Willcox Lumber Company of Lake Park, Minnesota, before he “remembered the Maine” and joined the US Army in June, 1898.  Rolle served during the Spanish-American War with the 3rd U.S. Infantry at Fort Snelling, Minnesota and fought in a small police action against the Chippewa tribe.  Rolle’s earliest known work is a fine sanguine sketch of a seated young soldier holding a rifle at Fort Snelling.  He married Anna Ebeltoft and had a daughter, Maxine, in 1902.  He came to D.C. in 1900, where he joined the U.S. Department of Interior and, in 1904, the US Bureau of the Census, where he ultimately headed the Forest Products Division, supervising approximately 40 employees.  He is credited by the Norwegian Society of Washington, D.C. with being its founder in 1902 and was elected its first President.

Rolle started his formal art training at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (1905-1915) with, among other teachers, E. H. Messer, J. H. Moser and R. N. Brooke.  The Barbizon landscapes of the Frenchman, J.B.C. Corot (examples were in the Corcoran collection) and his rural upbringing were Rolle’s inspiration for painting views of the Potomac River Valley and other fields, farms, trees, rivers, streams and other landscapes of the D.C. area, which he rendered in impressionist, spontaneous, gentle, imaginatively-colored, pastel- hued works of art for 35 years, until his death in 1941 in a manner that was equal to the best American Impressionist landscape painters.

Rolle is an important American Impressionist.  His work is very similar in coloring, composition and technique to that of Edward Redfield, who was made a member of the Landscape Club of Washington, D.C., when Rolle was its President, even though Redfield was a resident of Pennsylvania.  They had the same love of spontaneous on-site sketching and painting of beautiful landscapes and waterviews, the difference being that Redfield painted primarily in the Delaware River Valley and the environs of New Hope, Pennsylvania, while Rolle focused on the Potomac River Valley, D. C. and the adjacent rural areas of Maryland and Virginia.

Rolle is one of the relatively few Southern and D.C. artists, who espoused and practiced Impressionism in the early 20th Century. Impressionism was not a popular Southern art form, because art tastes remained conservative in the South, which retained its love of Barbizon-style landscape painting and photo-realistic genre painting, that came into fashion in the second half of the 19th Century. D.C. attracted artists, illustrators and engravers, who created precise, realist works for U.S. government agencies, such as the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and the U.S. Department of Interior, and artists who specialized in realistic portraiture of the US government officials and the D.C. business elite.  In his definitive American Impressionism (1984), Professor William Gerdts, discussed approximately 350 American Impressionists of the very late 19th and early 20th Centuries and others affiliated or interested in American Impressionism and illustrated in color the works of approximately 100 American Impressionists.  Gerdts discussed the Impressionists active in various regions in the U.S., including the South (pp. 201-261).  He concluded (p. 240): “For reasons that are not yet clear, Southern artists seldom experimented with Impressionism, nor were collectors in the area attracted to it; and Northern artists who worked in the South rarely were of an Impressionist persuasion.”  Gerdts discussed only 12 practitioners of Southern Impressionism, illustrating works by Rolle, Benson Moore (also of D.C.), Gari Melchers (Virginia), Kate Freeman Clark (Mississippi) and Julian Onderdonk and Granville Redmond (Texas).  At p. 240, Gerdts observed that Rolle’s Brunswick, Maryland [1] “is painted in a fairly orthodox impressionist style.” Rolle’s Early Spring Good Hope Hill [ D.C.] is illustrated in color  as plate 305.

In his comprehensive 3 volume (1214  pages in the aggregate), Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting (1990), Gerdts examined in some detail the art and artists of each state from colonial times through the early 20th Century.  In Volume I, dealing with the eastern and mid-Atlantic states, Rolle is one of 21 major District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) artists that Gerdts selected, analyzed in depth and illustrated.  Gerdts selected Rolle out of thousands of DC artists that were available to him.[2]  Rolle’s painting Wharf Leonardtown, Maryland is a full page illustration at Volume I, p. 363. At p. 364, Gerdts characterized Rolle as a “first-rate landscape painter” and observed: “Wharf, Leonardtown, Maryland, a scene at the mouth of the Potomac River, is painted with a high-key colorism unusual for him; many of his finest works are winter scenes with paint laid on in a more architectonic manner, reflecting the aesthetic of the Pennsylvania impressionists, particularly EDWARD WILLIS REDFIELD.  Indeed, Rolle devoted himself to the Potomac River Valley with much the same enthusiasm that Redfield did to the Delaware River. (Emphasis added.).”

Rolle was a vital force in and much respected member of DC art circles in the early 20th Century.  He played prominent roles in the D.C. art organizations, which, on May 20, 1932, William Henry Holmes characterized as the “ three principal art societies” of Washington, D.C.: the Landscape Club of Washington, D.C., the Washington Watercolor Club and the Society of Washington Artists.[3]  Rolle was one of the founders of the Landscape Club, which traces its roots to 1913; became known as the “Ramblers” c. 1916; and will shortly celebrate its 100th anniversary as the Washington Society of Landscape Painters.  Rolle was elected President of the Landscape Club each year from its formal inception in 1919 through 1932, with the exception of 1925, and was the major dynamic figure in the Club.  Many male members[4]  of the Club, which was devoted to outdoor sketching and painting of the D.C. area and the Potomac Valley and its environs, would go on painting expeditions virtually every weekend.  In those days, the close-in areas, such Rock Creek, Sligo Creek and the Anacostia River, and the beautiful rural vistas, including parts of Bethesda and Rockville, Maryland and idyllic settings on the Potomac and its tributaries could be easily reached in a relatively short time, with newly extended trolley lines and the relatively recent invention, the automobile.  Weekend painting trips were also made to more distant places, such as Waterford, VA, Harper’s Ferry, W. VA. and Solomons Island and Ocean City, MD. By 1927, the Club’s membership had swelled to 39 members (limited to 40 members in 1928). Among the more noted members of the Club during the early 20th Century were William Henry Holmes,[5] Garnet Jex,[6]  Lucien Powell and Benson Bond Moore,[7]  all of whom were close friends of Rolle.[8]  In addition, other notable artists, such as Winfield Scott Clime, R. Bruce Horsefall, Charles Bittinger and Eliot O’Hara were members, as was Edward Redfield of Pennsylvania.  Rolle, who was also an excellent, innovative watercolorist, succeeded William Henry Holmes as President (1914-1930) of the Washington Water Color Club,[9]  being elected each year from 1931 through 1937.  In 1940, Rolle was elected Vice-President, Society of Washington Artists, having been elected Secretary in 1920 and serving on its Executive Committee in 1922, 1925-1927, 1931-1939.  Rolle was a member and Chairman of the Arts Committee and of the Board of Governors of the Washington Arts Club, which was a D.C. cultural mecca, founded in 1916.[10]  He was also a member of the Society of Washington Etchers, the Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society and the American Federation of Arts.  Rolle first appears in the artist’s biographical directory of the American Art Annual in 1912.

In The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915, a catalogue for an exhibition of the National Museum of American Art (1983-1984), Andrew J. Consentino and Henry H. Glassie stated (p. 239): “The most distinguished landscapists of the second generation [of the Washington, D.C. landscape school] were August H. O. Rolle (a key member of the Landscape Club), Edgar Hewitt Nye, and Hobart Nichols.  Rolle and Nye, as can be seen in their Winter, Rock Creek Park and Rock Creek, Early Summer, respectively (Figs. 157 and 158), subscribed to Cezanne’s style, but with differences….Rolle employed Cezanne’s architectonics, but adopted a palette of lavenders and other complex colors that originated with Gauguin and which found favor with the painters of the Delaware and Brandywine schools. Rolle’s paintings ranked along with those of Elmer Schofield and Edward Redfield. (Emphasis added.).”

With extensive press coverage,[11]  Rolle exhibited at many museums, art galleries and other venues throughout the U.S., even though he exhibited mostly in the D.C. area and the South.  He was unable to attain national recognition and fame, as he devoted his entire career to practicing and promoting impressionism in D.C. and the South, where impressionism was not accepted.  Thus, Rolle did not attain the national fame of the D.C. area artists, who left D.C. for New York and New England.  Nonetheless, Rolle was, as Gerdts stated, a “first-rate landscape painter;” his “paintings ranked along with those of Elmer Schofield and Edward  Redfield,” per Consentino and Glassie; and he was a major Southern Impressionist during his approximately 35 year career.

Footnotes:
[1] Gerdts viewed this painting at “Washington on the Potomac,” a Corcoran Gallery of Art exhibition of 1982.
[2] See the approximately 2,700 DC artists profiled in Virgil MacMahan's “The Artists of Washington, D.C. 1796-1996,” and pp. 185-186 for Rolle’s biographical write up and a photograph of Rolle’s painting “The U.S. Capital With The Bartholdi Fountain (and figures) In The Foreground.”
[3] See memorandum, dated May 20, 1932, of William Henry Holmes, one of D.C.’s great artists and the first Director of the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art in the vertical files, National Museum of American Art, its successor.
[4] Women were not admitted to membership until 1993, the 80th anniversary of the organization’s founding. A Club promotional document published c. 1928, stated, in effect, with male bravado and decorousness, that females were not members because the terrain encountered during Club sketching trips was too rough and difficult for them. 
[5] At Christmas, 1928, Holmes sent Rolle an exquisite, sophisticated watercolor study of a young African-American male, on the verso of which Holmes stated: “To A.H.O. Rolle with Holiday Greetings from W.H. Holmes—‘He is black but that is no matter.’ 1928.” This study was exhibited as “A Black Youth” as No. 126 in The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915), an exhibition held at the National Museum of American Art (1983-1984).
[6] In a letter dated August 20, 1965, to Maxine Rolle Goodyear, Rolle’s dsughter, Garnet Jex wrote: “For 15 years, as a junior member of the Landscape Club, Mr. Rolle was a real friend and counselor, and it was privilege to serve as secretary for 7 years while he was President. He gave the Club guidance and stability which perhaps it has lacked since then. I believe his chief personal characteristic was sincerity; next, a regard for other people. He had an innate love of the out-of-doors, and a keen awareness of it color, light, and form of things. He had respect, too, for paint as a medium to record what he saw, and to express what he thought.”
[7] Moore taught Rolle print making. They held a November, 1924 joint print exhibition at Venable’s, a D.C. Gallery.
[8] See notes 5, 6 and 7 above. The author was advised of Rolle’s relationship and friendship with these artists by Colonel August Goodyear, spouse of Maxine, Rolle’s daughter,  in conversations in the 1970’s.
[9] See Marilyn Benjamin “The Influence of Traditional and Innovative Watercolor Techniques on the Washington Watercolor Club Between 1890-1936,” a thesis submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University on May 6, 1979. Benjamin assessed Rolle’s watercolor technique and work, along with that of 5 other leading members of the Club from 1890-1936.
[10] Lectures, concerts, art exhibitions, cultural talks and member musicals, sketches, dances and dinners were key functions at the Arts Club at the James Monroe 4-story, double width Georgian house. When the Arts Club was founded, the only art museum and non-commercial exhibition space was the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
[11] On October 12, 1941, 3 days after Rolle died, Ada Rainey stated in a Washington  Star Arts Club exhibition review: “‘Sand Dunes, Ocean City, Md.’ by A. H.O. Rolle has a subtle sense of the beauty of the swirl of the sand along the coast. It shows the sensitive observation of the artist in a most delightful manner. Rolle has always been sensitive to the quiet or serene beauty of nature in her poetic moods.”

Sources:
Fastov, Robert S. The Seascapes and Waterviews of August H.O. Rolle. Exhibition Catalogue Calvert Marine Museum June 20-October 20, 1992.
Rolle family records and documents
Newspaper files of the Washington Star and Washington Post
National Museum of American Art and Corcoran Gallery of Art files and collections of exhibition catalogues, brochures and press clippings
Art's Club of Washington scrapbooks
Norwegian Society of Washington, D.C. documents
U.S. Government Archives (military career and employment)
Who's Who in American Art
American Art Annual

Scrapbook by Garnet Jex, long-time member of the Landscape Club of Washington, D.C.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
American Landscape painter, August H.O. Rolle studied at the Corcoran School of Art under Clarence E. Messer and Richard N. Brooks.    

For 41 years, the artist worked at The Bureau of the Census, as an economic analyst of forest products. He was a member of American Society of Foresters. Rolle exhibited paintings at National Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Arts Club.

He was active in various organizations, including founding of the Landscape Club of Washington in 1915, president of Washington Watercolor Club, officer of Society of Washington Artists; also Norwegian Society, Arts Club, Miniature Arts Club, Minnesota State Society.    

Rolle also served in the Third Infantry during the Spanish-American War, and fought during one of the last Indian uprisings in Minnesota.    


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