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 Largely superseded in the twentieth century by changes in popular taste and improvements in photographic technology, genre painting nevertheless remains a strong sub current in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 in 1868, 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 receive some education in art under J.B. 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 seem condescending and dated. To 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 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.
Brooklyn Arts Club
Brooklyn Society of Artists
Brooklyn Painters Society
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 Public
Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences
Charleston Art Museum
Heckscher Museum, Long Island, New York