The Grand Rapids Art Museum opens a survey exhibition showcasing Mathias J. Alten
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The Grand Rapids Art Museum opens a survey exhibition showcasing Mathias J. Alten
Mathias J. Alten (American, 1871–1938). Reeds Lake with Bathers, c. 1918. Oil on canvas, 16 ¼ x 20 ½ inches. Grand Rapids Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Leonard R. Smith in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Shaw, 2003.6.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI.- The Grand Rapids Art Museum announced its exhibition showcasing Mathias J. Alten, Grand Rapids’ most esteemed painter. Mathias J. Alten: An Enduring Legacy is a survey exhibition that coincides with the 150th anniversary of Alten’s birth in 1871 and will be on view at GRAM through April 24, 2021.

In the early to mid-twentieth century, Alten was nationally recognized for his landscapes, still lifes, and portraits that drew on traditional European painting as well as more modern styles, like impressionism. The exhibition shows how over his lifetime, Alten’s painting evolved from a controlled, academic technique into a more fluid and expressive approach.

“Mathias Alten emigrated from Germany to Michigan at age 17 in 1889, where he spent the majority of his career painting and teaching in downtown Grand Rapids. Nearing the 150th anniversary of Alten's birth, An Enduring Legacy celebrates his contribution to the arts in our city,” commented GRAM Director and CEO Dana Friis-Hansen. “The exhibition includes paintings from throughout Alten’s career—including rarely seen artworks in other media and of monumental scale—offering our guests the chance to discover his work in a new way.”

Largely a self-taught artist, Alten received his first formal training in Paris at the age of 27. Like other ambitious American artists of his generation, Alten frequently traveled to paint in scenic settings and artist colonies in the U.S. and Europe. Even so, his primary residence and support base always remained Grand Rapids, where he spent the majority of his life painting and teaching.

The exhibition is comprised of highlights from GRAM’s permanent collection, the Grand Valley State University Art Gallery, and Grand Rapids Public Library, as well as works from private collections. In addition to paintings on canvas, the exhibition features murals, stained glass windows, and a selection of the artist’s private sketchbooks.
Opening concurrently with An Enduring Legacy is an exhibition in two parts: Hand and Machine in Harmony: Regional Arts & Crafts, highlighting the Arts and Crafts movement and its influence in the Midwest regions and West Michigan. Drawn primarily from a local private collection and enhanced with works from GRAM’s holdings, the first segment of the exhibition will be on view from October 24 – January 23, 2020 and explores three important Grand Rapids designers: Charles P. Limbert, Albert Stickley, and Forrest Emmerson Mann. These designers saw an opportunity to merge the fine craftsmanship and style of the English Arts and Crafts movement with factory production. By creating a harmony between machine production and handwork, Limbert, Stickley, and Mann produced furniture and décor that was well-made, beautifully designed, and affordable.

“An Enduring Legacy provides an ideal opportunity to consider other creatives in Grand Rapids during the same period,” stated GRAM Chief Curator Ron Platt. “In the early twentieth century, Grand Rapids’ reputation as the Furniture City was due in large part to the cultural popularity of Arts and Crafts furniture and décor. Mann, Limbert and Stickley were responsible for some of the most beautiful and inventive Arts and Crafts design being produced at the time.”

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