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Mathias J. Alten: An Enduring Legacy

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Painter Mathias J. Alten is one of Grand Rapids’ most esteemed and beloved figures. In the early to mid-20th century, Alten was nationally recognized for his landscapes, still lifes, and portraits that drew on traditional European painting as well as more contemporary styles, like Impressionism. Alten emigrated from Germany to Michigan as a young man, settling with his family in Grand Rapids in 1889, where he lived for the rest of his life. Drawn from regional art collections both institutional and private, this exhibition celebrates Alten’s ongoing legacy on the 150th anniversary of his birth.

As an immigrant to this country, Alten worked hard to establish himself in a new homeland. In the decades leading up to the 20th century, the United States experienced rapid economic and urban growth, driven by industrialization and immigration. Alten was part of this wave of new immigrants, drawn to Michigan by lumber production and the many factories and jobs it supported. His first work in Grand Rapids, at the age of seventeen, was as a furniture decorator in local factories. He continued to seek opportunities to further his artistic skills and took on local commissions to decorate public buildings. Desiring to become a professional artist, he took painting lessons and painted whenever and wherever he could, even while running his father-in-law’s paint and wallpaper store. In 1899, Alten established a studio and school in downtown Grand Rapids with another local artist. He went on to widely exhibit and sell his paintings, and to become one of the region’s most respected—and successful—artists.

The breadth of Alten’s artistic approaches and interests across his career are reflected in the range of paintings and other works on view in the exhibition. There are family portraits and self-portrait studies, floral still lifes, mural-sized allegorical works created for public spaces, and scenes of the natural world, for which he is best known. Included are highlights from GRAM’s permanent collection, the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery, the Grand Rapids Public Library, and rarely seen works from private collections.

Mathias J. Alten: An Enduring Legacy
  • Times:  During Museum Open Hours
  • October 24, 2020 to April 24, 2021
  • Grand Rapids Art Museum
  • Free with Museum Admission
  • Recurring daily