Fishermen in the Adirondacks

William Louis Sonntag

Pescadores en los Adirondacks

Sonntag, William Louis

East Liberty, 1822 - Nueva York, 1900

Fishermen in the Adirondacks, c. 1860-1870

© Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Signed lower right: ''W. L. Sonntag''
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Oil on canvas

91,4 x 142,2 cm

CTB.1981.21

Artwork history

  • Private collection.

  • Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, 1981.

  • Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York, 1981.

  • Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, 1981.

  • Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid.

1981

American Paintings. 1850-1950, New York (NY), Berry-Hill Galleries, nº 31.

1982 - 1983

Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting: Selections from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Houston (TX), Museum of Fine Arts; Oklahoma City (OK), Oklahoma Art Center; Omaha (NE), Joslyn Art Museum, nº 43, p. 98.

1983

Maestri Americani della Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Vatican City, Musei Vaticani, nº 15.

1984

Maestri Americani della Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Lugano, Villa Malpensata, nº 14.

1984 - 1986

American Masters: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Baltimore (MD), The Baltimore Museum of Art; Detroit (MI), The Detroit Institute of Arts; Denver (CO), Denver Art Museum; San Antonio (TX), Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute; New York (NY), IBM Gallery of Arts and Sciences; San Diego (CA), San Diego Museum of Art; Palm Beach (FL), The Society of the Four Arts, nº 15.

1996

De Canaletto a Kandinsky. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nº 45, p. 134.

1997

Capolavori dalla Collezione di Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza: 60º anniversario dell'apertura della Pinacotecca di Villa Favorita, Lugano, Villa Favorita, nº 64, p. 172.

1998 - 1999

Masterworks from the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; Takaoka, Takaoka Art Museum; Nagoya, Matsuzaka Art Museum; Sendai, Miyagi Museum of Art, nº 21, p. 60.

1999

Aspectos de la tradición paisajística en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Málaga, Salas de Exposiciones del Palacio Episcopal, nº 46, p. 156.

2012

Paraísos y paisajes en la Colección Carmen Thyssen. De Brueghel a Gauguin, Málaga, Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, nº 12, p. 90, illus. p. 91

2016 - 2017

La Ilusión del Lejano Oeste.Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga. Cat. MA-6. (not catalogue)

2020

Paraísos. Impresionismo europeo y americano. Colección Carmen-Thyssen Bornemisza. Fundación Bancaja, Centro Cultural Bancaja, Valencia. p. 20-21.

  • -Warren, David B.: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting: Selections from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. [Exhib. Cat. Houston, Museum of Fine Arts – Omaha, Joslyn Museum of Art, 1982-1983]. Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 1982 , p. 98 [Sheet by Warren].

  • -Novak, Barbara: Nineteenth-Century American Painting: The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Ellis, Elizabeth Garrity… [et al.]. London, Sotheby´s Publications, 1986 , nº 13, p. 86, illus. [ Sheet by Manthorne].

  • -Storm Nagy, E.: Europa e America. Dipinti e acquerelli dell’ Ottocento e del Novecento dalla Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza. Guida delle opere esposte. Milano, 1993, nº 43, p. 64.

  • -De Canaletto a Kandinsky. Obras maestras de la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, [Exhib. Cat. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza], 1996, n. 45, p. 134.

  • -Capolavori dalla Collezione di Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza: 60º anniversario dell’apertura della Pinacotecca di Villa Favorita, Lugano, Villa Favorita,[Exhib. Cat. Villa Favorita], 1997, n. 64, p. 172.

  • -Masterworks from the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Tokio, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum; Takaoka, Takaoka Art Museum; Nagoya, Matsuzaka Art Museum; Sendai, Miyagi Museum of Art, [Exhib. Cat. Japan], 1998  n. 21, p. 60.

  • -Aspectos de la tradición paisajística en la Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, Málaga, Salas de Exposiciones del Palacio Episcopal, [Exhib. Cat. Salas de Exposiciones del Palacio Episcopal, Málaga], 1999, n. 46, p. 156.

  • -Colección Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Arnaldo, Javier (ed.). 2 vols. Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2004, vol. 1, p. 274, illus. p. 275 [ Sheet by Katherine E. Manthorne].

  • -Paraísos y paisajes en la Colección Carmen Thyssen. De Brueghel a Gauguin, Málaga, Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga, [Exhib. Cat. Museo Carmen Thyssen Málaga], 2012, n. 12, p. 90, lám. p. 91.

  • – Paraísos. Impresionismo europeo y americano. Colección Carmen-Thyssen Bornemisza. Centro Cultural Bancaja. Fundación Bancaja [Exhib. Cat.], Fund. Bancaja, Valencia, 2020.  p. 20-21[ Sheet by Katherine E. Manthorne].

Expert report

When William Sonntag set up a studio in New York in 1857, the Hudson River School was at its height, and he not surprisingly fell under its influence. Following Thomas Doughty, Thomas Cole, and Asher B. Durand, the Cincinnati artist conveyed a belief in the wonder of nature in idealised views: grand sweeps of landscape done in detailed brushwork. By the 1860s he reached the peak of his powers and maturity in what has been called his “classic phase”, exemplified by Fishermen in the Adirondacks. Working in a large, panoramic format he created a number of scenes that correspond to a Claudian composition: a central body of water is flanked by trees at left and right and a hill behind. They go by titles that indicate regional identity. In truth, however, there is little to distinguish them in terms of geographic specificity but the character of the hills or the configuration of the body of water: in the Adirondacks, lake scenes and angular peaks; in the White Mountains, serene silhouettes; and in numerous Catskill paintings, the famed Hudson. And he almost never portrayed a specific peak or other landmark, as did most of his contemporaries. Rather these pictures are intended to evoke a particular state of nature, not a place. Raised in Ohio, Sonntag was acutely sensitive to the balance between man and nature found on the frontier, which he signified by a variety of formal motifs found in this picture.

On the far shore of the scene there appears a log cabin with a curl of smoke, the primary symbol of man’s encroachment into the wilderness. It appears in a clearing marked by ax-cut stumps, a frequent landscape motif which Barbara Novak has interpreted as an additional reference to man’s conquest and settlement of the land. What became Sonntag’s signature symbol is the figure of the fishermen, prominent here on the rocky outcropping along the lakeshore in the central foreground. One stands and the other sits and holds a long fishing pole. These stock figures, which populate a large percentage of his panoramas, provide a key to the meaning of his landscapes.

When Sir Isaak Walton’s enormously popular book The Complete Angler came out in an American version, its editor Rev. George Bethune clarified its terminology: “an angler, kind reader, is not a fisherman, who plies his calling for a livelihood, careless in what way he gets his scaly rewards.” Similarly, Sonntag’s figures are not struggling to catch enough fish to eat, or to earn a living; instead they take their recreation. Angling is meant to soothe, to refine. The figures stand with their backs to the viewer, contemplating the glories of the peaceful landscape, and communing with one another through this encounter with nature. The viewer’s study of the canvas, in turn, is meant to evoke a similar chain of responses.

Katherine E. Manthorne