Cincinnati painting returns from international museum

Sonntag work on display in Cincinnati Museum Center exhibition

CINCINNATI – William Louis Sonntag returns to Cincinnati after a stint in Germany. The 19th century artist helped set the scene of the prehistoric American landscape for the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. Now home in Cincinnati, Sonntag’s painting is on display in Cincinnati Museum Center’s America’s Epic Treasures featuring Preternatural by Michael Scott.

Sonntag’s 1850 painting Ohio River Near Maysville, Kentucky, part of CMC’s History Objects and Fine Art Collection, reflects the local landscape at a time when mastodons roamed the region. The discovery of mastodon bones at nearby Big Bone Lick in 1739 caught the attention of scientists including Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who, as president, ordered a scientific expedition to the site in 1807 led by William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame.

On display in Germany’s Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Sonntag’s work was part of an exhibition surrounding a mastodon discovered in New York in early 1801 by artist Charles Wilson Peale. Developed by the German museum in partnership with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the exhibition explored the history of evolution and extinction and used Sonntag’s painting to set the scene as it captures the essence of the area near where several mastodon fossils were famously discovered.

“Our collections have international significance and contribute to historic and scientific understanding far beyond our region,” said Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of Cincinnati Museum Center. “We were honored to share our treasure with a global audience but we’re happy to bring it back home where local audiences can gain a new appreciation for Sonntag’s ability to vibrantly freeze a moment in time.”

Sonntag’s Ohio River Near Maysville, Kentucky is now on display through January 8, 2023, in CMC’s America’s Epic Treasures featuring Preternatural by Michael Scott. America’s Epic Treasures features a dozen paintings from CMC’s collections alongside more than 30 large-scale works from artist Michael Scott celebrating the grandeur and rejuvenating power of nature.

Sonntag was born in Pittsburgh in 1822 and moved to Cincinnati in 1843 to perfect his painting technique. He became a highly regarded landscape artist and made several trips to Florence, Italy with his friend and fellow painter Robert S. Duncanson (whose 1851 Cincinnati from Covington, Kentucky is also on display in America’s Epic Treasures). He moved to New York in 1856, where he joined a group of other landscape painters inspired by Romanticism known as the Hudson River School, named after the frequent subject of their work. The Hudson River School inspired several similar art movements, including the Ohio River Valley, a frequent muse for artists like Duncanson.


About Cincinnati Museum Center
Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) at Union Terminal is a nationally recognized, award-winning institution housed in a National Historic Landmark. CMC is a vital community resource that sparks curiosity, inspiration, epiphany and dialogue. CMC was awarded the 2009 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2012, one of a select few museums in the nation to receive both honors. Organizations within CMC include the Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, Children’s Museum, Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater, Cincinnati History Library and Archives and the Geier Collections and Research Center. Housed in historic Union Terminal – a National Historic Landmark restored in 2018 and recognized as the nation’s 45th most important building by the American Institute of Architects – CMC welcomes more than 1.8 million visits annually, making it one of the most visited museums in the country. For more information, visit

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