American Rose Artists
Perpetuating the Rose in Art -- Part 4

Part I         Part II         Part III

By Steve Jones

While working on the series of rose art articles, I was amazed by the number of top rose painters who were from America. Most of the American painters are largely unknown so they are not household names, however you may recognize some of their works.

John La Farge (1835-1910). One of best American rose painters, he often took liberties when painting, such as making the rose difficult to identify, or using grape leaves instead of rose leaves. However, his attention to fine detail and rich contrasts made him well known during his time. It was written of him, "La Farge is honest and undisguised in his determination to sacrifice truths of form, botanical, geologic, or whatever he might find to be demanded by his subject, to general truths of color." Some of his best-known works are Wild Roses and Grape Vine (c. 1871), Roses In Blue Crackle Glass Pitcher (c. 1879) and Roses in A Shallow Bowl (c. 1879).

Even though La Farge was proclaimed to be "one of the greatest geniuses this country has ever produced," he lost out in the critics' eyes due to the new craze of abstract art. He painted in oils but is best known for his watercolors. He worked in all art mediums, including stained glass, and was very interested in Oriental art and culture which was prominent in his paintings after 1860. He married the granddaughter of Commodore Perry, whose brother, Matthew, opened up Japan to the world. He also inspired the American mural move-ment and was a prolific writer. He trained in law, but left for his love of art after the death of his father, who left him con-siderable wealth. His works never gained popularity until he started to paint floral watercolors in the 1870s. His big break came when he was commissioned by the Vanderbilts to redecorate their home with paintings and stained glass. He was paid well to complete the three-year project. He lived mostly around the Newport, Rhode Island area with his family.

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) was the most amazing of all the American rose painters. He was born in Pennsylvania and studied under noted Quaker artists Edward and Thomas Hicks. He began as a portrait painter but soon shifted to landscapes. He became a leader in the Luminist School of Painting, which experimented with colors to change the atmosphere of the paintings. He was known for his rich colors and color contrasts in his landscape and seashore paintings, often giving up fine detail. He met the Reverend J. C. Fletcher and accompanied him on a trip to South America, where he planned to publish a book on hummingbirds. It was his love for hummingbirds that lead him to paint birds, flowers and plants, mostly in the late 1870s. He traveled and painted all over the United States before settling in St. Augustine, Florida in 1881. Heade probably had the longest career of any American artist. His life could be divided into three periods: his wandering years (15) where he created portraitures, the years (24) he was in New York where he mostly painted landscapes, and the last period (20 years), where he painted plants and birds, mostly roses and flowers in Florida.

Heade's roses were drawn with such fine detail, that they appear to be 3D and very realistic. He was a very prolific painter but largely unknown during his time and almost forgotten after his death. He is known as the painter of red roses, with General Jacqueminot as his favorite subject. My favorite paintings of his are Cherokee Rose (1887), Still Life With Red Roses (c. 1880s), and Four Cherokee Roses On A Purple Velvet Cloth (1894). He did other rose paintings including The Happiness Rose (c. 1860s) and Red Rose With A Ruby Throat (c. 1870s). The latter is seen in many publications. It wasn't until forty years after his death he was given the recognition he deserved. In her book Martin Johnson Heade, Barbara Novak wrote, "The originality of Heade's mature flower painting is unmatched in 19th century art. For Martin Johnson Heade, the flower always represented woman.  were painted with such passionate intensity that they can certainly can be seen as a metaphorical representation of woman.  many of his own sexual instincts may have been sublimated."

George Cochran Lambdin (1830-1896) is another American painter whose detail is almost unrivaled and is one of my personal favorites. He is considered to be the first American to specialize in rose paintings. In his painting of Climbing Roses (1882), you can almost identify the roses due to the detail. Other paintings include Roses in A Wheelbarrow (c. 1875), Rose Reverie (1865), and Roses in A Vase (1872). He was fortunate to live in the biggest rose growing area at that time, Germantown, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia so he had plenty of subjects to paint including new varieties. His personal rose garden was of great renown. His paintings at that time were known as Lambdin's Roses. Louis Prang popularized Lambdin's works by distributing his paintings as lithos. Prangs Botanicals are known for the high quality prints. Lambdin was mostly known for his civil war paintings and still lifes of flowers. He was also a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts.

It has been suggested that John Ferguson and maybe John La Farge and Winslow Homer started Lambdin's interest in painting plants. The first of these works appeared in the late 1860s. After that, flowers were prominent in Lambdin's paintings, either as still lifes, or as accessories as in the garden with women. Lambdin's style was considered Ruskinian (natural state) and Pre-Raphael, and he used oils and watercolors for most of his paintings. Another interest of Lambdin was photography which he used albumin prints from glass plates. He also collected photographs and many may have been the subjects used in his paintings. It was written of Lambdin that "his figure and genre compositions also possess a quiet stillness, an arranged, ordered quality and juxtaposition of shapes and colors which minimizes the sense of action or narrative." Little is known of Lambdin's life as apparently he never married and the fate of his letters and other memorabilia is unknown.

Paul de Longpre (1855-1911) Even though he was born in Lyon, France, de Lonpre painted many of his famous rose paintings right here in the Los Angeles area. His home and lavish gardens were the first tourist sight in Hollywood. The Walk of Fame is located on the homes former site. Because of his gardens, he was nicknamed the "King of Flowers." de Longpre came from a family of noted artists, and since Lyon was the center for flowers, especially roses, they became his main interest. When he moved to Hollywood in 1898, his exhibit of paintings became an immediate hit. Known for his yard long paints (long narrow paintings); they are very popular today. Some of my favorites are American Beauty Roses, White Roses, and A Study of Roses.

Julian Alden Weir (1852-1919) painted roses much in the style of Fantin-Latour. He painted large roses in various stages of nodding over, even wilting. Weir's style used very thick layers of paint so the roses appear to come out of the paintings. His best works are Roses (1883), Flora (1882) and Roses With a Glass Goblet (1884). Candace Wheeler, an artist and writer wrote of Weir "He is the painter of pale, undemonstrative  roses in shadowy places, whose fragile beauty needs a champion and interpreter." Weir was one of the founders of the Society of American Artists, and painted and taught in the New York City area and Connecticut. Weir's love for roses was passed on to his brother, John Ferguson Weir, and good friend John White Alexander (1856-1915) who painted Pink Roses (1886) and White and Yellow Roses (1890).

Emil Carlsen (1853-1932) was another devotee of Weir. He was born in Denmark and moved to the United States when he was 19. His paintings reflected the same style of Weir. Carlsen was a good friend of Weir, and Weir often gave him rose paintings as gifts. His best known work is Yellow Roses and Violets (1897). Since then, he became known as the painter of yellow roses.

Ralph Blakelock (1847-1919) used roses in most of his still-lifes. His style is rather modern, where the abstracted roses are painted on dark or black backgrounds. The roses are of his imagination and are not copied from the real thing. His best rose works are Red Roses and Red Roses.

Childe Hassam (1859-1935) was a true master of bright brilliant colors and yet paid attention to detail. His paintings used roses mostly as accessories rather than by themselves. In one painting, The Sonata, he showed a lady at a piano with a bloom of Marechal Neil. His best known paintings are The Rose Girl (1888) and Woman Cutting Roses in a Garden (c. 1889).

Milne Ramsey (1846-1915) was a master of detail. His paintings looked realistic, more like a photo than a painting. His La France Roses (1889) and In The Corner of The Rose Garden (1889) are excellent examples of his work. He lived in the same town as Lambdin and it is suggested that Ramsey was a student of his.

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) is one of America's best known painters. He is best known for his still-lifes when he was able to sell readily. He was influenced by the French painter Antoine Vollon. He taught art for over 15 years and influenced many young artists. He helped bring contemporary French art and Impressionism to the United States.

Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) is best known for his sketches and recruiting posters from World War II. He worked as an illustrator for Harper's & Scribners, and used roses to accent his sketches of ladies. American Beauties (1904) is one of my favorites, and I have collected several of his signed prints.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was one of the best artists America had ever produced. He is better known for his portraits, but he actually painted several paintings with roses, including Bowl of Roses (1901), The Old Chair (1885) which featured a vase with roses sitting on an old chair, and Roses in Oxfordshire (c. 1885).

Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923) is another rose painter who used great detail. The attention to detail is quite amazing; however, I have found little information on this artist. Bridges' paintings include Pink Roses, Rosebud, and Two Roses. Bridges liked to use chinas, especially Old Blush.

There are numerous other American artists who used roses to accent their paintings or painted still-lifes. Fredrick Stuart Church (1842-1924) had the eerie Silence, where the head of a mummy is painted with a rose to his lips. Thomas Sully (1783-1872) painted a sleeping child lying next to a rose bud in Child Asleep (1841). As said of Dennis Miller Bunker that he struggled to make a living and he painted flowers to avoid the expenses of a model.

Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986) was best known for her large bright abstracts of flowers, skulls, and general southwestern themes. She grew up in Wisconsin and lived in New York until 1946 when she moved to Taos, New Mexico. There she formed a school of painting that still exists today. Although it was said that she was not a great painter, her work was highly sought after, which goes to show that critics are not correct about people's tastes. She painted several rose paintings, my favorite being Blue Rose With Skull that I have on a tie.

Frances Flora Bond Palmer (1812-1876) was a mainstay for producing floral prints for Currier & Ives. She was born in England and came to the United States while in her thirties. Then she started to work for the famous litho firm. She painted all types of flowers, including roses. Her work was more of landscapes and scenes rather than still-lifes.

Anastasia Czerniakiewicz is from Portland, Oregon, and has a long list of rose paintings, which is fitting for a painter who lives in the City of Roses. She survived cancer and is back painting again after her ordeal. She has a webpage: www.anastasia.com.

Other American notables include William Babcock, Winslow Homer, John O'Brien, Abbott Handerson Thayer, John Leslie Breck, Ross Turner, Severin Roesen, Philip Leslie Hale, Charles Ulrich, Julius Stewart, Charles Courtney Curran, Elihu Vedder, Abbott Graves, Julia McEntee Dillon, Alice Brown Chittenden, James Audubon, John William Hill, and so many others.

There are several local rose painters as well. Thomas Scott Nelson (1953-present) lives in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from Cal State Northridge. He has painted/sketched numerous prints of roses, although he is best known for turn of the century landscape paintings of Ventura County. He has a webpage located at: www.vcnet.com/tsnelson/default.htm.

Marty Bell also resides in the San Fernando Valley and is best known for her English landscape paintings. In these she has used roses throughout, and has painted several ovals of roses that can be purchased at many local collectible stores.

Today, we have two well-known rose painters, at least known to the multitude of rosarians in America. Louise Estes is a well-known painter of such fine detail that her paintings are very popular and realistic. She was honored by Joe Winchel who named a top exhibition hybrid tea rose after her. Known mostly for old garden roses, Bunny Skran teaches and paints roses in watercolor. I have several of her paintings that grace my living room walls.

By 1880, the rose was established as the favorite subject of American painters, in still-lifes and portraits. In 1893, painting critic Maiana Griswold van Resselaer stated "Roses, as usual, are attempted more often than any other flower; but the plain fact that they are the most difficult of all flowers to paint speaks clearly from every wall. It seems almost impossible to render in paint all the characteristics which make up the beauty of our florists' roses -their bearing, which is always too graceful yet sometimes very sturdy too; the peculiar quality of their color, which results from the delicate yet firm substance of their petals; and the solidity which the close association of many of their petals suggest. We often see painted roses which are not exact even in color, because they are not both solid and delicate  because they do not suggest at once firmness of build and fragility of texture. Sometimes our painted roses look like tin, and sometimes like cotton, and sometimes like the wreaths of flowers, retaining color, but devoid of all bulk and weight."

This article was an ARS Award of Merit Winner. Reprinted from the February 2000 issue of Rose Ecstasy, bulletin of the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society, Kitty Belendez, Editor.

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Part I         Part II          Part III
"White Rose and Larkspur"
by Georgia O'Keefe
"Wild Roses in an Antique Chinese Bowl"
by John La Farge
"Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose"
by John Singer Sargent
"She Held a Deep Red Rose"
by Howard Chandler Christy
"Flora"
by Julian Alden Weir
"Four Cherokee Roses"
by Martin Johnson Heade
"Still Life with Roses"
by George Cochran Lambdin
"Vase of Flowers"
by George Cochran Lambdin
"Crown Jewel"
by Anastasia Czerniakiewicz
"Roses and Bumblebees"
by Paul de Longpre

Updated December 11, 2012
"Large White Roses"
by Paul de Longpre
"Summer Fragrance"
by Paul de Longpre
"Roses"
by Paul de Longpre
"Wild Pink Roses"
by Paul de Longpre