Mathias Alten

Life Dates
1871 – 1938
German-born American
Artist Biography
Alten's view of Grand Rapids captured the expansion and development of a city through images including its downtown streets, Reeds Lake and Alten's own backyard. Alten, a painter of much wider acclaim than the boundaries of this community, chose to make his home, raise his family, and paint here the majority of his life. Today, a century after Alten began capturing scenes of Grand Rapids, the city is still recognizable in his work. The sampling of Grand Rapids scenes he offers serve as a historical record for a city that continues to redefine itself. Mathias Alten's Grand Rapids changed dramatically during his lifetime. The city he encountered upon first coming to West Michigan from Germany in 1889 was far different by the time of his death in 1938. Between those two points were nearly 50 years of population increases, changing business and political leaders, and evolving cultural institutions and social norms. During his lifetime, Mathias Alten captured many Grand Rapids scenes on his canvases. To know his Grand Rapids, it is necessary to retrace the journey he took through the city's history and see it change as he did. By the time of his death in 1938, Mathias Alten had gained national and international renown for a body of work that included his observations of Grand Rapids over a period of 50 years. Long recognized for their artistic merit, these works are also important historical documents. The events, people and scenes he painted preserve Michigan's second city at one of the most vibrant periods in its history.