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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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William Louis Sonntag, Italian Lake with Classical Ruins, 1858, oil on canvas on aluminum panel

William Louis Sonntag, American, 1822-1900

Italian Lake with Classical Ruins
Oil on canvas on aluminum panel
Gift of Annie B. Dore; P.917.3


Rich in historical and artistic associations, Italy held great romantic appeal for aspiring nineteenth-century American artists. Like many of his contemporaries, William Louis Sonntag made frequent and extended pilgrimages there, attracted more by the romanticized ideal of Italy’s past than by the realities of its complex and less glamorous present. This poetic scene, which includes the temple of Vesta in Tivoli, was probably painted from sketches Sonntag made during his yearlong Italian sojourn in 1855-56. The Roman temple, from about 100 BCE, is the only identifiable structure, but scattered ruins, fragments of aqueducts, and colorfully dressed peasants further locate the scene in Italy. The natural setting is an artful pastiche of lush forest, rocky precipice, and luminous sky and water—all arranged in the Claudian landscape mode. Sonntag painted at least two other versions of the same scene, including one of identical size in the collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Sonntag was raised in Cincinnati but moved to New York by 1857. From there he traveled not only to Italy but also to American scenic locales, especially the White Mountains. His landscapes retained his distinctive animated touch but gradually became more intimate in size and subject, reflecting the influence of the midnineteenth-century French Barbizon style.

Last Updated: 6/9/15