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William Louis Sonntag (American, 1822-1900)


Also known as:  Sontag, William Louis

William Louis Sonntag was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1822. At an early age, he showed an affinity for painting and did sketches and paintings of country scenes near Philadelphia and western Pennsylvania. However, the movement Westward enticed him. The romance and desire to go to a different community led him to travel, and he set forth. When he reached Cincinnati in the 1840s, he decided to settle, training at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts and painting landscapes in the nearby Ohio River Valley and the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky. By the 1850s Sonntag had become a household name in this region, due in part to his commission from the B&O Railroad and to his regular appearances in the Western Art Union exhibitions.

While Sonntag was to travel to Europe and to study and paint in the manner of the Old Masters, it is his American works by which he is judged and which make him the distinguished master he is. The paintings Sonntag did in Italy are idyllic; his American paintings are more realistic and natural and flow freely from his facile brush. Although the colors he used are quite vibrant and the details intricate, they are subordinated to the harmony of the whole painting, giving a complete and well-balanced composition. In the early 1850s, Sonntag settled in New York City and became affiliated with the Hudson River School, favoring various eastern sites as his subjects: the Adirondacks, the Alleghenies, the Catskills, the Shenandoah Valley, and the White Mountains. The National Academy of Design awarded him associate membership in 1861.

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