WILLIAM LOUIS SONNTAG SR.1822-1900
Hudson River School landscape artist William Louis Sonntag, Sr. was born in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1822. Sonntag was largely self-taught, though he may have studied with Gustave Frankenstein at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts, having moved to that city with his family when he was still a child. Sonntag maintained a studio in Cincinnati from 1842 to 1856, and made numerous painting trips during this period in the Ohio River Valley and into the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia. Early in his career, an exhibition of his work at his gallery caught the attention of a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad official who commissioned the young artist to paint a series of landscapes along the B & O Railroad. The artist combined this commission with a honeymoon trip by rail. Sonntag went to Europe in 1853 accompanied by African-American landscapist Robert S. Duncanson, whose work he encouraged. Sonntag returned to America in 1857, after having studied for a year in Florence. He settled in New York City, where he largely remained, with the exception of frequent painting trips through New England and Italy, and a summer home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in later years. Sonntag devoted himself exclusively to landscapes, and like the other members of the Hudson River School, he celebrated the grandeur of the American wilderness. He made painting excursions into the mountains of New York State with fellow landscapists such as Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. A secondary theme of interest to Sonntag was idealized neo-classical depictions of Roman ruins. He also collaborated with John C. Wolfe on panoramas depicting John Milton’s epic poems Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Sonntag was the father of painter and illustrator William Louis Sonntag, Jr. He was a member of the National Academy of Design; the American Watercolor Society; the Artists Fund Society; and the American Art-Union. His work was exhibited at: the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the National Academy of Design; the Brooklyn Art Association; the Philadelphia Art Club; the American Watercolor Society; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Boston Art Club; and the Omaha Exposition of 1898. The artist’s paintings are among the collections of museums and galleries across the United States and in Spain.