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 Harry Herman Roseland  (1866/68 - 1950)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: Narrative, genre, portrait and interior painting

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Harry Herman Roseland
from Auction House Records.
To the Highest Bidder
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A notable genre painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Harry Roseland was born in Brooklyn, New York and remained there throughout his career. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not travel to Europe. He was largely self taught as an artist but did some study with J.B. Whittaker in Brooklyn.

At a time when abstract art was gaining ascendency, Roseland chose to paint what he saw in a realist style and early in his career painted landscapes and still lifes. But he soon discovered that his real interest was painting that told a story.

His early subjects were sentimental and depicted fashionable people, rural folk, and idealized farm scenes. He painted humorous scenes of blacks in Northern settings during the post-Civil War period.

He was a member of the Brooklyn Arts Club, the Brooklyn Society of Artists*, the Brooklyn Painters Society, and the Salmagundi Club*.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

His birth date is disputed with art historians Peter Falk listing it as 1866 and Marlor and Zellman giving it as 1868.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Biography from Carolina Galleries - Southern Art:
Harry Roseland
1866 or 1868-1950

Genre* painting enjoyed tremendous popularity in nineteenth-century America.  It was a style that allowed a painter to tell a story, evoke an emotion, tell a joke, or educate.  Largely superseded in the twentieth century by changes in popular taste and improvements in photographic technology, genre painting nevertheless remains a strong sub current in popular taste.  One of the most notable painters in this mode was Harry Roseland.

Roseland, born in Brooklyn, New York, matured as an artist while waves of change were sweeping over the art world.  Largely self-taught, he chose to paint what he saw.  He received some education in art under James Barnard Whittaker in Brooklyn, and at first painted some landscapes and still lifes, but his natural flair was for telling a story in his paintings.  His subject matter was at first highly sentimental and heavily influenced by fashionable taste: smartly turned-out young women, old folks, and idealized farm scenes.  He abandoned the mawkishness that is the downfall of so many self-educated artists when he found a topic that was close to home and yet largely unnoticed: the post-Civil War blacks who formed the underpinning of Northeastern society.

Roseland's clever, skillful scenes of homely activities - such as checkers or letter-reading, were remarkably dispassionate and candid for the time, though to modern eyes they may seem condescending and dated.  They capture with gentle humor of a way of life that existed through the first half of the twentieth century and has now vanished.  Harry Roseland never left his native Brooklyn, dying in New York in 1950, but enjoyed a remarkable success as an artist in his chosen specialty, improving and maturing continually.  The archetype of the independent American artist, he never traveled to Europe to study or observe, choosing to carve his own path.

During his career as an artist he exhibited: Brooklyn Art Club, 1888 (gold), Boston, Mass., 1900 (medal), 1904 (gold), Charleston Expo, 1902 (medal), National Academy of Design, 1898 (prize), Brooklyn Society of Artists, 1930 (prize), American Art Society, Philadelphia, 1902 (medal), 1907 (gold), Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Art Institute of Chicago.

His memberships include: Brooklyn Arts Club, Brooklyn Society of Artists, Brooklyn Painters Society, Salmagundi Club.

Public Collections representing the work of Harry Roseland:
Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, Brooklyn Museums,Charleston Art Museum,Heckscher Museum, Long Island, New York.

Biography from Pierce Galleries, Inc.:
Harry Herman Roseland was a one of America’s finest genre painters during the 19th and early 20th century.   He was born in Brooklyn, New York and died in that city in 1950.  He studied with Thomas Eakins, C. Beckwith; J.B. Whittaker (in Brooklyn) and was a member of the Brooklyn Art Club (1896); the Brooklyn Painters and Sculptor’s Association and the Brooklyn Society of Painters.

In 1888, Roseland won his first gold medal at the Brooklyn Art Club. Other awards include medals at the National Academy of Design (1900); Boston Art Club (1900; gold in 1904); Charleston Exposition (1902); American Art Society, Philadelphia (1902; gold in 1907); Brooklyn Society of Artists (1930) and more.

Roseland is represented in the permanent collections at the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Sciences; Charleston Art Museum; Huntington Library, San Marino, CA; Huntington Art Museum; Jackson Museum, Michigan; Heckscher Museum, Long Island, New York and more.

Roseland lived throughout his career in New York and never traveled to Europe. He became famous for painting common laborers in fields, picking cotton or berries in and around the New York and New England coastal areas, and he specialized in interior genres that shows men discussing art and literature in smoke-filled libraries; black fortune tellers reading white women’s palms and tea leaves; and post-Civil War African Americans engaged in common everyday activities.  He exhibited at the National Academy from 1884 paintings that showed people praying; gossiping; reading or delivering letters; sewing; interiors filled with activity and joy; black fortune tellers; and old men talking in the privacy of a den or library.

References: Who’s Who in American Art, 1947; Who Was Who in American Art, vol. iii, p. 2824; Three Hundred Years of American Art, p. 619; Exhibition of the National Academy, 1861-1900, vol. ii; The Annual Exhibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
HARRY ROSELAND (1868-1950)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Harry Roseland was initially self-taught, and later received advice from J. Carroll Beckwith. His earliest paintings were landscapes, portraits and still lifes. Around 1880 he began to specialize in African-American themes, often painted in series, and these brought him financial and critical success. Roseland’s paintings were exhibited at the Brooklyn Art Club and the National Academy of Design and were often reproduced in popular periodicals

The Letter belongs to a series of paintings in which one or two fashionably dressed white women and an elderly black woman, possibly a serving maid or nurse, engage in various activities. In most, the black woman is a helper or advisor---she reads palms, tea leaves or cards, and interprets the future. In others, she teaches the women to knit, or to sew. Here, she assumes a passive role and listens to a letter being read. The warm intimacy of the subject, and the carefully rendered furniture and objects in the room, underscore the racial harmony that Roseland emphasized in his work.

Although Roseland never traveled or lived in the South, at the turn of the century his genre scenes were viewed as authentic studies of the lives of Southern blacks. Nancy Rivard Shaw

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from the Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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