"Mathias J. Alten: An American Artist at the Turn of the Century", A Grand Valley State University Touring Exhibition

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German-born American artist Mathias Joseph Alten (1871-1938) immigrated to the United States in 1889 at the age of seventeen. His family settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a premier furniture-manufacturing center and desirable location for immigrants in the late-nineteenth century. Here, amidst a rapidly changing world, Alten went on to establish a family, home, and studio for the entirety of his career.


Like many American painters of the period, Alten was drawn to the major artistic and cultural centers of Europe and the United States. Beginning in 1898 and continuing over the next four decades, he traveled extensively to pursue artistic training, exhibit his work, and engage with fellow artists. In spite of his attraction to foreign communities, Alten chose to keep his professional home in the same city and state that welcomed his family during the late nineteenth-century. As a result, his work was influenced by the landscapes and techniques he discovered abroad, but also remained deeply connected to the rural Michigan landscape widely featured in his paintings.


Over his career, Alten created more than 3,000 works of art initially influenced by the Barbizon and Hague Schools and later by the Impressionism movement. He repeatedly sought out and celebrated traditional laborers and nostalgic settings even as modernization transformed life in the early twentieth-century. On the 150th anniversary of his birth, this exhibition commemorates Alten’s life and career with works of art, historic photographs, and personal artifacts drawn from the collection at Grand Valley State University.

antique photo of Mathias J. Alten in profile

"Mathias J. Alten, Portrait", ca. 1935, photograph, Special Collections, Grand Valley State University Libraries, Mathias J. Alten papers, RHC-28

Exhibition Venues

Sketch of a man in a 17th century cavalier costume.

Mathias J. Alten, The Cavalier, graphite, ink, and gouache on paper, 1899, GVSU Permanent Collection, 2015.10.1

Selected Paintings and Artifacts

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With over 45 different works and artifacts from Alten's life, this exhibition creates an important snapshot of Alten's life and career during a period of rapid growth and change in the United States. In total, the GVSU Art Gallery's collection cares for nearly 200 objects related to Mathias J. Alten, along with hosting the Mathias J. Alten: Online Digital Catalogue, the largest digital collection of Alten's works. To view the full collection of Alten's artwork and artifacts visit our online collection. To see additional archival material visit the GVSU Special Collections and University Archives.

Become a Venue

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  • Mathias J. Alten: An American Artist at the Turn of the Century

Organized by        

  • Grand Valley State University Art Gallery


  • Moderate security; Approximately 200-250 linear feet


  • Approximately 45 works of art (oil paintings, drawings, watercolors)
  • Exhibition manual
  • Introductory and text panels, object labels
  • Artifacts (photographs, personal items) and mounts 
  • Complete label style guide with fonts and text hierarchy

Booking Period        

  • 12 Weeks Tour, June 2020 - December 2022


  • Insurance required per venue, Certificate of Liability issued to GVSU


  •  One-way shipping, Fine Arts Transportation

Participation Fee        

  • $5,000


  • Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy, published in 2016 by GVSU, 200 pgs., edited by Timothy J. Chester with essays by Ellen Adams and Matthew L. Daley (retail $59.95).


White building on left, tower in background on right.  Man pulling cart in foreground. Blue sky.

Mathias J. Alten, Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia, 1912, oil on canvas, Gift of George H. and Barbara Gordon, 1998.600.1

Resources for Exhibition Hosts

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Page last modified November 22, 2021