Tree Hugger: Quick Bite

Earth Day is just around the corner and we’re celebrating on Museum Quick Bites with a deep dive into Landscape with Mountains and River (1874-1882) by fellow Cheesehead and tree hugger, Henry Vianden.

Landscape with Mountains and River (c1874) by Henry Vianden, Milwaukee Art Museum

Cast against a backdrop of craggy mountains, this breathtaking painting was created from a combination of scenes Vianden sketched while visiting various parts of Wisconsin. Zoom in and notice the puffy clouds and blustery sky. How sunlight reflects off the water and illuminates like a beacon, specific points along the shore, while the clouds cover the rest in shadow. Note the lone person paddling a canoe across the placid river, a tiny figure surrounded by the majesty of nature.

Close-Ups of Landscape with Mountains and River (c1874) by Henry Vianden, Milwaukee Art Museum

Landscape with Mountains and River has a peaceful, spiritual vibe. Vianden, like his fellow late 19th century landscape artists, believed nature was a direct expression of God. He was particularly enchanted by trees, referring to them as, “God’s noblest creatures.”

Artist Background:  Heinrich (Henry) Vianden (1814-1899) was born in Poppelsdorf, Germany, today a district in the city of Bonn. He began an apprenticeship with a goldsmith at age 14, and was accepted into the prestigious, Akademie der Bildenden Künste München (Royal Academy of Fine Art in Munich) at age 22. After receiving his degree, Vianden bounced around Europe, working in Antwerp, Belgium and later, Cologne, Germany. However, Europe was in social and economic turmoil, and shortly after the German Revolution (1848-1849), Vianden, along with 4,000 intellectuals, left his homeland.

Left: Henry Vianden (date and photographer unknown)

Right: Trees, Pastoral Scene (1882–1883) by Henry Vianden, Milwaukee Art Museum

Vianden arrived in New York City on Independence Day, July 4th, 1849. Settling in Milwaukee, among a large community of German expats, he took a job teaching at two schools run by his fellow political refugees, Peter Engelmann’s German & English Academy, and Mathilde Fraziska’s German, French & English Academy.

Left: Sketch #1 by Henry Vianden (no date), Milwaukee Art Museum

Right: Sketch #4 by Henry Vianden (no date), Milwaukee Art Museum

Vianden also tutored several of Wisconsin’s up and coming artists. A popular teacher, he was affectionately referred to as, “Oak Tree Painter” and “The Bear”, because of his scruffy appearance. Vianden was also known for his art fieldtrips. Loading up his horse and cart with students and art supplies, he and his class visited and worked plein air in Wisconsin Dells and other favorite spots along the Fox and Kickapoo Rivers. In addition to teaching his students how to paint, Vianden emphasized respecting and seeking inspiration from nature.

Left: Portrait of Henry Vianden (1882) by Peter Woltze, Milwaukee Art Museum

Right: View on the Fox River (c1885–1888) by Henry Vianden, Milwaukee Art Museum

When we paint a tree, we must realize that we have before us a king.

~ Henry Vianden

Photo by jplenio, Pixabay

In 1888, Vianden was elected vice president of the Milwaukee Art Association. He died in 1899, at age 85, and is considered Wisconsin’s first, professional landscape artist. If you’d like to view more of his gorgeous work, click on this Henry Vianden link, courtesy of the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Fun Earthy Fact: The first Earth Day took place in 1970 and was established by former governor and senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson…yet another tree-hugging Cheesehead (we’re everywhere!) Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22nd.

To learn more about the roots of Earth Day (pun intended) and how to do your part to help the environment, click on this Museum Bites: Love Your Mother Earth (2016) link. If you’d like to learn more about Gaylord Nelson and his impact on Earth Day, click on this animated Gaylord Nelson video clip, courtesy of PBS Wisconsin Biographies.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

That wraps up our ramble through Henry Viaden’s, Landscape with Mountains and River. I’ll be back next week with more Museum Quick Bites. Until then, be safe, be kind, take care, and love your Mother Earth.

Cover photo by Mona El Falaky, courtesy of Pixabay.


Akademie der Bildenden Künste München

Britannica: German Revolution (1848-1849)

Gallery of Wisconsin Art: Henry Vianden

Milwaukee Art Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum: Henry Vianden

Milwaukee County Historical Society: Wisconsin Dells by Henry Vianden

Museum Bites: Love Your Mother Earth (2016)

Museum of Wisconsin Art: Henry Vianden

PBS Wisconsin Biographies: Gaylord Nelson


Tate: Landscape Painting

Wisconsin Art Visual Achievement Awards: Henry Vianden

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