PAULUS ROETTER (1806 – 1894)

Paulus Roetter was one of a group of German-born scientists and artists who made major contributions to the field of botany in mid-19th century America. Before immigrating to America in 1845, he studied and taught art in Europe where he achieved some renown for his landscape paintings.

Roetter settled in St. Louis and joined the faculty of Washington University as its first drawing instructor. Here he met George Engelmann, a physician, botanist, and fellow German. Roetter's association with Engelmann sparked his interest in natural history and the drawing of biological specimens, and their work together eventually produced a bounty of botanical illustrations of plants of the American Southwest.

Their collaboration included participation in the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey (1850–1855). Roetter was one of many artists whose task was to record the natural history encountered during the survey. Volume II of the Report included George Engelmann's report "Cactaceae of the Boundary" to which Roetter contributed 75 superbly rendered botanical illustrations of cacti of the region. He also produced the frontispiece of the volume, a magnificent illustration of the saguaro, or Cereus giganteus, based on a field sketch by Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen.

While the Boundary Survey was being conducted, another series of expeditions was mounted between 1853 and 1855 to survey land west of the Mississippi to find an appropriate route for a transcontinental railroad. Again Engelmann and Roetter described and illustrated the cacti found along the southern survey route that included New Mexico and Arizona. Their work appears in Volume III of the Pacific Railroad Survey Reports, with 24 of Roetter’s excellent illustrations, some of which include field sketches by Möllhausen.

In 1867, Roetter moved to Boston to work at Harvard University with Louis Agassiz. His ichthyological drawings for Agassiz were exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 and later in Paris where they were awarded highest recognition.

He returned to St. Louis in 1884 where he died ten years later after breaking a hip during his daily walk in Forest Park.