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Berks County Farmscape
John Rasmussen (1828–1895)

Location: Pennsylvania, United States

Date: c. 1879–1886

Materials: Oil on zinc-plated tin

Dimensions: 26 3/8 × 35 3/8"

Credit: Gift of Ralph Esmerian

Accession Number: 2005.8.15

Photo credit: Photographer unidentified

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Description

This crisp view of a prosperous Berks County farmstead, with its pristine, fenced fields, clean, swept yards, and brightly painted buildings, presents an idyllic picture of agrarian life. The controlled environment extends from rolling fields into the distant hills and adjoining farm, with a network of interlacing fields illustrating the cadence and cycle of seasonal crop production, harvest, grazing meadows, and freshly plowed land lying fallow, awaiting planting. The predictable, patterned order, further assured by the promise of continued progress with the arrival of the railroad to the region, depicts a safe and secure world that the painter John Rasmussen could only imagine and one he may have hoped to achieve through his paintings.

Rasmussen was born in Germany in 1828 and arrived in America through the port of New York in 1865. He is listed as a painter and "fresco painter" in the Reading, Pennsylvania, business directories during the years 1867 to 1879. Widowed and suffering from chronic drinking problems and rheumatism, Rasmussen was committed to the Berks County almshouse on June 5, 1879. He arrived roughly three years before the death of painter Charles Hofman, a fellow inmate. Possibly inspired by the attention Hofmann had received for his painted landscapes and views of the institution, or perhaps as a result of a comaraderie between the two painters, Rasmussen produced almshouse views and other landscapes similar in composition to those of the elder Hofmann during the period of their joint residency. Rasmussen is known to have painted a wider range of subjects than did Hofmann, including portraits, still lifes, various landscapes, baptismal certificates, and, beginning in 1880, at least six views of the almshouse. In all of these, Rasmussen closely followed Hofmann's 1878 composition of the institution, which hung in one of the administrative buildings of the complex.

While both painters shared common subjects and seemed to prefer using the thin sheet metal available to them through the institution's wagon and machine shops, their techniques differed markedly. In a somewhat more painterly approach, Rasmussen utilized gradual tonal gradations, subtle shading, richer color tonalities, and a higher degree of detail. His former role as a professional painter is particularly evident in his more adept handling of shading and depicting light, which would have been required by the expedient medium of fresco. By contrast, Hofmann tended to repeat stylized figures using few details and to paint in broad areas of color with little shading or attention to the effects of natural light.

Jack L. Lindsey, "Berks County Farmscape," in Stacy C. Hollander, American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 417.


Berks County Farmscape
Date: c. 1879–1886
Artist:
Dimensions: 26 3/8 × 35 3/8"
Materials: Oil on zinc-plated tin
Credit Line: Gift of Ralph Esmerian
Place/Region: United States
Description:
Accession Number: 2005.8.15
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