William Louis Sonntag (American, 1822-1900)
Blue Ridge Wilderness (c. 1859)
Oil on canvas, 20 x 36”
Museum Purchase, 1972.7.1
Dwarfed by the surrounding landscape, the fishermen in the foreground of this painting help to convey the awesome power of Nature. The scene depicted, however, is not a specific location but instead an idealized composite inspired by Sonntag’s sketching trips to the Shenandoah River Valley in 1859 and 1860.
Like other artists associated with the Hudson River School, Sonntag represented the American landscape as a pristine wilderness infused with spiritual meaning. This sublime vision emerged at a time of rapid industrialization and westward expansion by European settlers and their descendants, who viewed Nature as an endless resource awaiting exploitation by industrious Americans.
Landscape as Dreamscape
This historic landscape painting imagines a 'pristine' wilderness being separate from human intrusion. This was, and remains, an illusion. Humans have occupied the continent and been altering the local landscape for at least 15,000 years. The date and location of this painting coincides with the beginning of U.S. petroleum production in Titusville, Pennsylvania in 1859.