What is it?


Heinrich Vianden (Poppelsdorf, Germany 1814–1899 Milwaukee)


In the Dells




Oil on canvas


36 x 49 in.

Credit line

Purchased 1990

About the Work


Heinrich (Henry) Vianden, born in Poppelsdorf, Germany in 1814, was the first of many mid- nineteenth-century German artists to settle permanently in Wisconsin. He arrived in Milwaukee in 1849, one year after Wisconsin became a state. He opened a studio in downtown Milwaukee where he produced landscape paintings in a style reminiscent of the Romanticism then current in his native Germany.

Trained at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Arts under Peter Cornelius (1783-1867), an exponent of German Romanticism and a member of the Brotherhood of the Nazarenes who worked in Rome, Vianden adapted his teacher’s classical, hard-edge painting style to the landscape of his new homeland. As a student, Vianden would have also known the work of German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), who often depicted humankind humbled by a dominant nature.

Vianden’s ingrained sensibilities would have naturally inclined him toward the subject of the Wisconsin Dells, which by the 1880s had become a nationally significant tourist destination recognized for its fantastic, towering sandstone gorges. For In the Dells, Vianden selected a bucolic scene of the grassy verges instead of a dramatic rocky vista carved out by the river. The influence of his European predecessors is evident in the meticulous depiction of a majestic landscape replete with a small, aged, solitary figure and a flock of sheep, all bathed in the soft glowing amber light that forges a path through the trees.