|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Henry Roecker was the son of Margaretha (Engler) and Reverend John
William Roecker, a Methodist minister, both born in 1836: John in
Adelshofen (Baden), Germany and Margaretha, in Sevelin,
Austria. Both parents came to America at an early age. |
Henry Leon, born in Burlington, Iowa on 22 July 1860, grew up in
Chicago, attended the public schools, and enrolled at the old Academy
of Design on the corner of Van Buren Street and Michigan Avenue.
This was the original school that would eventually become the Art
Institute of Chicago. After Henry had graduated, he decided to go
to Munich for further art studies in 1887. Roecker was impressed
with all of the Americans associated with the Munich School: “Chase,
Duveneck, Walter Shirlaw, Frank Currier (who I think had more ability
than Duveneck) — even the Germans said he was rotten with talent, put
Munich on the map as an art center.” (Weimer, 1940, pp. 520-521).
When Roecker arrived in Munich, the Royal Academy had already said
adieu to Chase, Duveneck, Theodore Steele, and Shirlaw, who returned to
America. However, Currier, William Forsyth, and Carl von Marr
were still there. Since Carl Theodor von Piloty, the top-ranking
professor at the Academy, had died in 1886, Roecker studied under
Nicholas Gysis, himself a former student of Piloty, Hermann Aschütz,
and Alexander von Wagner. Roecker appreciated that the Munich Academy
professors allowed students to develop and be innovative after grasping
the basics. The experience was “a good drill for foundation of
future and creative work.” Roecker seemed to agree with the more
progressive Leibl that spontaneous execution and the “elimination of
the superfluous” were goals to strive for (Weimer, 1940, p. 524).
Roecker’s name was at the top of Honorable Mentions and when he
returned home, he declared that his award certificates “were almost
worn out in my father’s pockets.” (Weimer, p. 521). Roecker
showed a preference for landscape painting; he went sketching in the
areas around Munich during the two summers he spent there. In
addition, he became an ardent concert-goer and a frequent visitor at
the Max-Emanuel Café, where American artists discussed or quietly read
in the evenings.
Roecker might have won a scholarship but his father’s illness required
his return to America. Before he sailed back, Roecker had the
opportunity to see an exhibition of impressionist paintings. The
show made a strong impact, and back in the States, he investigated the
effects of color and light by exploring the theory of
impressionism. Roecker joined his father in Nashville, Tennessee
and opened a studio there in the Vendome Theatre Building and taught at
the East End College for Women. In 1891, Roecker’s father died
and a fire destroyed almost everything in his studio, including most of
his paintings and drawings from Munich.
Roecker first exhibited nationally at the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts in 1892, where he would return in 1909 and 1928. His
selection of three genre pieces and portraits obviously represented the
remnants of his Munich experience, salvaged from the fire. In 1893,
Roecker settled in Chicago at 481 E. 42nd Place in the Hyde Park area
and exhibited at the Art Institute for the first time in the following
year. He won the Yerkes Prize for landscape and was praised by
Hamlin Garland, one of the “Critical Triumvirate” in Impressions on
Impressionism. Garland’s sculptor companion in the dialogue,
Lorado Taft, agreed with Garland’s estimate of Roecker’s work, Autumn
Landscape, Tennessee, but the sculptor had reservations about Roecker’s
“diaphanous” approach: “There is a richness here and beautiful color. .
. . My only trouble is with that diaphanous cow; she looks as though a
light breeze would float her away. I suppose it is part of his scheme
of keeping the foreground out of focus . . . However the picture
is fine and its beauty is not accidental, but a style all his own. We
gave him a prize for something similar last spring at the [Chicago]
Society of Artists. (A Critical Triumvirate, 1894, p. 2).
Roecker was to participate in the Chicago annuals and watercolor shows
at the Art Institute with few interruptions until 1933. Many of
his works exhibited there had titles referring to Washington Park and
Jackson Park locations in Chicago. In 1897, Roecker took part in
the Tennessee Centennial, exhibiting On the Brow of a Hill, Lake in Washington Park, and Study from My Studio Window.
The catalogue described Roecker’s canvases as representative of the
impressionist school, as the works were marked by lively, broken
brushwork. His technique was called “broad and simple.”
Here was “an impressionist who catches the spirit and movement as well
a the vibrations of color and light in nature.” (Fine Arts Department,
Tennessee Centennial, 1897, p. 84). Later in 1909, Roecker won
the Medal of Honor at the Chicago Society of Artists. Maud I. G.
Oliver, the Chicago art critic who reviewed the show that year reported
on “the excellent canvas by Leon Roecker, Plowing in Spring: .
. . a painting which brought forth universal admiration
from the assembled visitors. . . .” She concluded, “.
. . there is always such a grave dignity about his compositions,
combined with a rare poetic strain, that [his canvases] are singularly
appealing. Sound, refined, logical conceptions, they always are
deserving of whatever honors they may receive.” (Oliver, 1909, p. 3).
During his busy years in Chicago, Roecker joined Chicago’s major
artistic and cultural organizations: the Chicago Society of Artists,
the Water Color Club, the Cliff Dwellers, and
the Cosmopolitan Art Club of Chicago. Competition among artists
in Chicago was intense, and Roecker had to hold his own, vying for
attention among jurors at the Art Institute against such contenders as
Adam Emory Albright and others (Love, 1989, p. 99). In 1911,
Roecker was awarded the Carr Prize for the best landscape at the Art
Institute of Chicago.
Roecker took part in San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International
Exposition (1915), where he submitted Calves Resting. That
October, he participated in a group show at the Fine Arts Building in
Chicago, in the company of such distinguished artists as Albright,
Pauline Palmer, Lawton Parker, Bolton Brown, Carl R. Krafft, Wilson
Irvine, Frank V. Dudley, and well-known Indiana impressionists Steele
and Louis O. Griffith (Love, 1989, p. 213).
At the age of sixty-six, Roecker married Julia Roberts of Saginaw,
Michigan, also an accomplished artist, and moved to Winthrop Harbor in
Illinois. At that time, Roecker began to assume a more
Cézannesque accent, but despite his veering toward modernism, Roecker
was part of Chicago’s “Old Guard.” At the Century of Progress
Exhibition, held at the Art Institute of Chicago, Roecker submitted one
oil painting, Wisconsin Farmyard, executed in 1931.
The decade of the Great Depression was Roecker’s last. The
Roeckers moved to Saginaw where they could share expenses with Julia’s
relatives. There, Henry Roecker died on the first day of December
1941, just six days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
A Critical Triumvirate, Impressions on Impressionism. Chicago: The Central Art Association, 1894, p. 2; Fine Arts Department, Tennessee Centennial, Catalogue. Nashville, TN: 1897
Oliver, Maude I.G., “Work of Chicago Artists on View,” The Sunday Record Herald, 7 February 1909
Weimer, Aloysius G., “The Munich Period in American Art,” Diss., University of Michigan, 1940, pp. 520-525
Quick, Michael, Eberhard Ruhmer, and Richard V. West, Munich & American Realism in the 19th Century. Sacramento, CA: E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, 1978
Love, Richard H., Louis Ritman: From Chicago to Giverny. Chicago: Haase-Mumm, 1989, pp. 99, 213
Wendy Greenhouse, in Chicago Modern 1893-1945. Pursuit of the New. Ed. Elizabeth Kennedy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 33.
Submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.
|Biography from Arlington Gallery:|
Born in Burlington, Iowa, he studied at the Academy of Design in Chicago, and with Gysis at the Royal Academy in Munich, Germany.Awards:
Hon. Mention, Munich, 1894; Arche Club price, Art Institute of Chicago, 1897; Chicago Society od Artists medal, 1909; Carr prize, Art Institute of Chicago
Chicago Society of Artists; Chicago Water Color Club.
Label on verso of a painting
|** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at registrar@AskART.com.|
Henry Roecker is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915