Grand Rapids Art Museum


Grand Rapids, MI



Mathias Alten: Journey of an American Painter


The Grand Rapids Art Museum is presenting a retrospective exhibition on the work of Mathias J. Alten (1871 - 1938), an American painter well known in Michigan and the upper Midwest in the early twentieth century. Alten arrived in the United States from Germany in 1889 at the age of seventeen and began a working career as a painter of portraits, still lifes, allegorical subjects, and landscapes. He received both private and public commissions and was established as an artist of the region by 1898, when he became a United States citizen. Later he applied for a passport to travel to France where he enrolled at the Academie Julian, followed by the Academie Colorossi.

Like many American Impressionist and Realist painters of his generation, Alten returned to Europe in the years 1910, 1912, 1922, and 1928, to paint in the Netherlands and Spain. By the mid 1920's, his palette lightened markedly. At this time he began to exhibit his work in Chicago, Detroit, and New York. In 1927, he spent a summer painting in Taos, New Mexico, and became acquainted with members of the Taos colony of artists. His American paintings include rustic scenes of Old Lyme, Connecticut, the sponge-fishing boats of Tarpon Springs, Florida, and the California missions and coast.

Alten's home and life-long career were in Grand Rapids where he was known as a painter of the local scene. Drawn to water, he often painted the Grand River, which flows through the city, and Reeds Lake near his home. His Michigan landscapes render country farms and urban subjects with an emphasis on the simplicity of life and changing seasons in the Midwest.

This exhibition is the first major exhibition and publication on the life and work of Mathias Alten. It consists of ninety paintings spanning his career and defines his artistic development and achievement in the context of American art of his time. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the Grand Rapids Art Museum and Marquand Books of Seattle.

The catalogue features contributions by three essayists. William Gerdts, distinguished scholar of American Art, is author of an essay placing Alten's career in the context of American Art. Elizabeth Boone, Assistant Professor of Art History at Humboldt State University, California, and a specialist on the Spanish influence on American Art, addresses the impact of Spain on Alten's work. And Chicago art historian Wendy Greenhouse, former Curator at the Chicago Historical Society, discusses the role of Midwestern art clubs and associations in the early twentieth century.

Above from top to bottom: Pintor, 1921, collection of George and Barbara Gordon; Sunset on the Farm, Saugatauk, MI,1913, private collection; Hollyhocks, 1897, collection of Blodgett Butterworth Health Care Foundation; Rancho de Taos, 1927, collection of George and Barbara Gordon; The Last Load, c. 1935, The Grand Rapids Art Museum, Museum Purchase with funds provided by John and Marilyn Drake

Above from left to right: Shell Fishers, 1910-11, collection of Aquinas College; Coming Ashore, 1922 or 1928, collection of Richard and Kate Wolters; Valencia, 1912, private collection; The Broken Mast, 1910-11, The Grand Rapids Art Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Peter C. Cook; Idling Boats, 1935, collection of James and Lois Kahllo

The exhibition, presented from October 16, 1998, through January 24, 1999, and catalogue are made possible by NBD Bank with additional funding provided by the Drake Quinn Family Foundation and the Wege Foundation.

The Mathias Alten Archive, a complete documentation of Alten' s life and work, will be donated to the Archives of American Art.

Read more about the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine


rev. 9/20/10

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