Beginning in the 1870s, William Louis Sonntag grew more interested in incorporating atmosphere into his landscapes by integrating sunrises and sunsets, and shadowy effects created by the terrain. In Boat Yard on the East River, the mountains and lakes of the natural world have been replaced by the man-made factories and developed waterways of New York City, yet the artist’s atmospheric qualities remain; the low sun and overcast sky, and Sonntag’s soft coloring, instill the industrial motif with a sense of romanticism.
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The painting relates to a larger work titled Smog that was included in Vose Galleries’ 1970 exhibition on Sonntag, comprised of paintings supplied by the artist’s descendants. At the time of the show, the artist’s family thought Smog depicted Pittsburgh, yet the existence of Boat Yard on the East River and the clear similarities between the two works, such as the cluster of buildings and factories at right, the active smokestacks, and the glowing sun along the horizon, lead us to confirm that both paintings are New York views.
To Vose Galleries, Boston, inventory no. 21719, May 1965
To private collection, Dedham, Massachusetts, June 1965, and remained with collector until his passing, 2014
By descent to private collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, 2014 to present
(verso of canvas) On. The. East. River.
Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. William Louis Sonntag: Artist of the Ideal 1822-1900 (Los Angeles: Goldfield Galleries, 1980), Catalogue No. 221, illus. page 91