William Sonntag was one of the central figures of the Hudson River School. Primarily self-taught, his early landscapes were executed during painting excursions from Cincinnati to the Ohio River Valley and in Kentucky and West Virginia (1856 and 1859).
Born in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, it is believed Sonntag studied for a short period with G. Frankenstein at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts in the early 1840s. By the 1860s, he was famous for his views of sky, earth and water and he painted in New England and upper state New York.
By 1851 Sonntag established a fine reputation as a competent landscape painter. He collaborated with John C. Wolfe on a large panorama of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained before he traveled to Italy and lived in Florence from 1855-1856. After his return from Europe in 1857, he settled in New York City, exhibited extensively and became known for his romantic American and Italian landscapes. In 1869 his canvas The Blue Ridge from Near Luray was published engraved by R. Hinshelwood and published in Ladies Repository. By the mid 1860s he was painting Mt. Adams, the Alleghenies, Shenandoah, Behtlehem (NH) and the Adirondacks, and at the end of his life he painted throughout the White Mountains.
Sonntag was an Associate (1860) and Academician (1861) at the National Academy of Design and a member American Water Color Society, the Artists Fund Society and the American Art Union. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Peabody Institute; Berkshire Museum; Brooklyn Museum; Chrysler Museum; the Fogg Museum; Harvard University; Vassar College Art Gallery; Cincinnati Art Museum; High Museum; National Art Gallery; R.W. Norton Art Gallery; Detroit Institute of Art; Hickory Museum of Art; The White House; Cummer Museum; N.Y. Historical Society; Butler Institute of American Art; Cheekwood Museum; Virginia Historical Society; Hunter Museum of American Art; Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; Memphis Brooks Museum and man more.
The artist died in New York City as one of America’s most revered landscape painters.
References: Zellman, D.M., Three Hundred Years of American Art; Falk, Who Was Who in American Art; Cuthbert, J.A., Early Art & Artists (2000); Sweetland/Gerdts, Master Paintings (1994); Driscoll, J.P., All That is Glorious Around Us (1997)
William Louis Sonntag, Classic Italian Landscape with Temple of Venus, c., Oil on canvas, Overall: 49 1/4 × 73 1/4 × 5 5/8in. (125.1 × 186.1 × 14.3cm), On loan from the American University Museum, Washington, DC. Gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran gallery of Art (Gift of Charles A. Munn and Victor G. Fischer in memory of Orson D. Munn)