William Louis Sonntag was born on 2 March 1822 in East Liberty (PA). He grew up in Cincinnati (OH) and was briefly apprenticed to an architect before beginning the study of art. From the mid-1840s he made annual sketching trips to Kentucky and Virginia. In 1847 he worked on an important series of pictures titled Progress of Civilization, encouraged by his patron Rev. Elias Magoon. By this time he had opened a studio in Cincinnati and exhibited for the first time at the American Art-Union, New York. In 1850 he began the panorama of Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained; but was unable to complete it due to an illness. In 1852 he painted along the Baltimore and the Ohio Railroad route over Alleghenies. The following year he travelled with his fellow artists John Tait and Robert Duncanson in Europe, visiting London, Paris and Italy. In 1855-1856 he made his second trip to Italy, where he returned several times throughout his career. By 1857 he had moved to New York City. During the Civil War he abandoned his former sketching grounds in the South or the scenery of New York and New England. Throughout the second half of the century he exhibited at the National Academy of Design, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, at the Boston Athenaeum, and at the Brooklyn Art Association. After 1870 he painted small, Barbizon-inspired, landscapes. He died on 22 January 1900 in New York City.
Katherine E. Manthorne