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Anything by God or Man: "Salt Lake City" (1882) Rudolf Cronau

  • By Micah Christensen

Anything by God or Man:

Rudolf Cronau (Solingen, Germany 1885 — 1939 Sleepy Hollow, NY) 
Salt Lake City, 1882
Oil on canvas | 20 7/8 x 31 5/8 in | 53 x 80 cm
Signed lower left “Ra Cronau”
Inscribed lower right “salt lake city, utah 1882”

 

 

About the Artist

Trained at the Royal Academy of Art in Düssseldorf, Cronau became a respected landscapist and portrait artists, first in Düsseldorf, then Leipzig. In 1880, he was hired by the illustrated magazine Die Gartenlaube, to be their “American Corespondent;” traveling from the East to West Coast and documenting important people and places along the way. He landed in New York in 1881. From there he travelled to Fort Randall (Dakota Territory) where he met, painted, and developed a life-long relationship with Sitting Bull. Over eighteen months, Cronau made some 50 collotypes (dichromatic-based photographs) and drawings that were first published in Die Gartenlaube then the book Von Wunderland zu Wunderland. There are several small oil studies made by Cronau — now located in the Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa, OK) and two large oil paintings: The Green River Utah (1885, Gilcrease Museum) and Salt Lake City (Anthony’s Fine Art).

Returning to Germany, Cronau gave a lecture tour, extolling the virtues of American democracy, the plight of the Native Americans, and his positive experience with Mormons. He published his experiences in the book Im wilden Westen: Eine Künstlerfahrt durch die prairien und Felsengenbirge (1890), then returned to the United States, where he raised his family and became a citizen.

About the Work

In his 1890 book Im wilden Westen: Eine Künstlerfahrt durch die prairien und Felsengenbirge, Cronau made a detailed account of his trip to Salt Lake City.  Reading his words, it is clear that the painting is more than a landscape. His description of the city, includes comparisons between the landscapes of Germany and discussion of the accomplishments and values that that buildings in Salt Lake represent. Below are excepts from Cronau’s account:

Across my vision, stretched the great Salt Lake with its extensive islands, towered above it were distant mountain ranges. Around noon we reached Salt Lake City, the Jerusalem of the Mormon State. We saw the temple, the tabernacle, the houses of the prophet tower above the trees, and soon drove into the inconspicuous train station, from where a carriage trotted us at a fast paced\ to the famous Townsend Hotel. I stayed there for a full week to study the life and goings-on of the Mormon people, firsthand, and to witness peculiarities that the city has to offer from in a time of splendor. Getting into closer contact with some Mormon families, I thought I ought to get a clear picture of Mormon teachings and life. A better country could not easily be found on the vast earth…

 . . . [After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith Jr.] the prophet's mantle fell on the shoulders of Brigham Young, who joined the sect in 1832 and had was given the honorific of "the Lion of the Lord" from a fellow believer. In the midst of the unbelievers, among an ever more powerful cultural development, it was impossible for the Saints to continue [in Ohio]. And when the persecutions began all over again in 1845, Brigham Young decided to found a Mormon state in a remote area where such a people could grow. With great care and energy, Brigham made preparations for the Mormon emigration. The famous exodus of the Mormons, began in the Winter of 1846 — an exodus which has only one counterpart in world history: the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. The Mormons left their belongings, their cornfields, their gardens, their beautiful houses with books, carpets, pianos, in short, everything that they contained.”

“The narrative of the Exodus of the Mormons has a story that touches the hearts of all noble people. The way of the Mormons went through prairies, which were teeming with bloodthirsty Indian hordes and wild animals, over torrential rivers and through horrific mountain deserts, over inescapable treeless plains and over sky-high alpine chains, through a wilderness that so far only a few whites had entered. Hundreds of miles these modern crusaders wandered over the prairies in the last winter, living in tent huts or in holes in the ground that they dug to shelter against the icy wind. They suffered untold hardships: typhoid fever, scurvy, and deadly fevers raged among the wandering crowd. Many hands and feet froze, and some of the strongest and persevering became helpless cripples. There were no oasis. The mirage often mocked them with prospects of water, and when they really got to streams and rivers, they more often found them bitter of taste and dangerous to health.  Numerous graves marked the way for the stragglers. Every day brought new burials, every night new mourning in the camp. But the Saints remained firm in their faith, and they chanted hymns on their wanderings and around their night fires. Among the few objects they brought with them from Nauvoo, was a printing press and newspaper. They printed and published during the journey words of good advice to every part of the camp. Brigham Young leadership soothed the weeping and inflamed the faint-hearted to new hope with burning prophecies. 

“This is how they came to the foot of the mighty Alpine chains, which together are known as the ‘Wasatch.’ Over the high ramparts there was no path, and the gorges that led through the high mountains were buried in snow. How the saints struggled up the mountains, dragging their oxen and cart, hauling food, baking their bread, and their weave brings tears to eyes. The young and courageous stepped ahead, drove the bears and wolves away, removed rattlesnakes, hunted the stags and mountain goats, and paved a path for those who followed. And when they reached the top of a mountain, they looked down upon arid, treeless plains onto dry river beds, hills without green, on pools of bitter water, on narrow steep canyons and wide deserts covered with springs. Day after day, week after week,  the tormented hikers [climbed] over the rough sierras, through the valleys. The food ran out, the game was poor, when finally, in the greatest need, on the 24th of July 1847 a picture beamed at them which could rightly be said to be one of the few perfect landscapes that the earth has to open up.” 

“There they looked out at the foot of majestic, snow-covered Alpine flats, vast plains that join a silver mirror of a mighty lake 75 English miles long and 35 miles wide. And, from this shining lake arises mountainous, purple-colored islands. Beyond, in the far distance, the picturesque sierras of Utah and Nevada. And all this appeared through the effect of a tropical sunshine as if filled with a golden mist of smoky shine. And when the ‘Saints of the Last Days’ descended the hills under the guidance of their prophet, that prophet recognized the plain that an angel had announced to him in the dream of the night and where the new temple was to be built. Then it was decided to stay here, to found new homes here on this plain, albeit a beautiful one, but deserted and without vegetation.” 

“Although the newcomers had nothing but a few oxen and wagons, nothing but a sack full of seeds and roots, the sight of the valley soon began to change under the hands of the ‘believers.’ Streams were diverted from the hills into new paths. Fields were created and tilled, apartments prepared, roads laid. Fruit trees planted and gardens marked out. A new Jerusalem came into being, and as the Jewish people in the land of Canaan stepped up to build the temple, the Mormons began to build their ‘tabernacle.’ What the temple was to ancient Zion is the ‘tabernacle’ of the Mormon city. From whatever point you can overlook the city: the enormous vaulted roof of the tabernacle, like the back of a gigantic turtle, catches the eye and fill the vision.”

  “. . . With 12-14,000 people, the inner space of this ‘tabernacle’ should be able to capture and the acoustics must be preserved in such an admirable whiteness that one can gently whisper, even drop a pin from one end of the 233-foot-long and 133-foot-wide room until the other can clearly hear. The giant building was not yet completed when the Mormons started building a new, even more magnificent temple. The workers have been at the effort for more than thirty years, and the building, made of huge whitish granite blocks, is approaching completion, only to be called the to display the largest religious building that the New World has to offer. In the vicinity of these two Mormon sanctuaries, the ‘Endowment House’ was built, where the ordination and the ‘sealings’ (i.e. the marriages) take place. In the ‘prophet's block,’ which is only separated from the ‘temple block’ by a street, several buildings serving the common good were also created: a school, the tithe office, a newspaper printer and others. This is where they also raised the “beehive house”, so named after the many beehive models that are attached to it. On the flat roof of the cube-shaped building there is an observatory, also in the form of a beehive, which plays a major role for the Mormons as a symbol of their state. After the honeybee called “deseret” in their dictionary, they named their country Deseret, ‘the land of the honeybee.’ In the prophet's block there is also the former residence of Prophet Young and the ‘lion house,’ read more by an elongated, two-story, carved stone lion on the façade character. Wooden building with many piked gable windows, of which the people claims that each marked the apartment of a wife of the Prophet.”

“These places, hidden by the bright red flowers of innumerable peach trees, are the houses of the believers, who, without urgent pomp, without overload, and wherever my gaze turns, friendly images greet the visitor everywhere. On the hikes through the city, nothing is more pleasantly noticeable than the constant cleanliness and attentiveness, peaceful calm and order, the evident well being of all houses and meals. There really is a Deseret, a swarm of bees, but without drones and without a military. Everyone works. Doing work is considered the highest duty and the highest pleasure. There are no idle people and the poor, there must not be, since the poor or unemployed are immediately provided by the Church with what is necessary. The order is more surprising when one considers the different elements from which they come. . . It consists of the English, Irish, Scots, Americans, Canadians, Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Germans, Swiss, French, Poles, Russians, Negroes, Hindus, Indians and Chinese, and all the colors, languages, customs and traditions of the same people together here in a peaceful community of great strength and energy. Elements and contradictions of all nations and zones live here in practical fraternization and harmony.  They multiply daily by moving in from all parts of the world. Here in the heart of the American wilderness a cosmopolitan association has blossomed, which has grown independently, competently, and consistently from its own strength and frenetic energy. That is an achievement, a success that the bitter enemies of Mormonism cannot and must not conquer…”

“…The sun fell, and while the snow-drenched high mountains flamed in the glow of the setting sun,  putting evening darkness over the cityscape at my feet. The buildings that are closely connected with the name Brigham Young protruded out of this darkness. A medieval looking wall enclosed the women's refuge with numerous, pitted oriel windows, the temple and the tabernacle. I felt as if I was surrounded by a dark dream, as if I were in the old Anabaptist city of Munster, with memories everywhere and the remnants of another, hardly understood time. And yet everything here is reality, living, tangible creation…”

“. . . Since my stay in Salt Lake City fell on a Sunday, I attended a Mormon service, which is held every Sunday at 2:00 p.m. in the Tabernacle. The followers of the Mormon faith came from near and far.  The nave of the church quickly filled with women and children, while the men preferred to take seats in the spacious galleries. The crowd streamed unceasingly through the numerous side doors of the Tabernacle, which like a giant sponge, absorbed the population of the whole region. Of particular interest to me was the appearance of a large number of Navajo Indians, who had come over from the more southern parts of the  territory or even from New Mexico. The same wore bright burgundy red shirts, brightly colored scarves wound around their heads like a turban, and colored leather gauntlets, and they formed a crazy counterpart to the diverse groups of European and American tourists who did not want to rush past. Little by little, the dignitaries of the church took up their retired seats: several apostles and bishoprics, and finally the president of the congregation, John Taylor, arrived with a very substantial appearance: over six feet tall, with regular, intelligent facial features. His movements showed good manners, and an inflammatory eloquence that emerged during the sermon he was giving did not fail to make a deep impression on the large crowd…” 

Source: Rudolf Cronau, Im wilden Westen: Eine Künstlerfahrt durch die prairien und Felsengenbirge. (Frankfurt: O. Löbbeke, 1890), 189-209.

Bibliography 

Ashliman, DL. Mormonism and the Germans: An Annotated Bibliography, 1848-1966 (BYU: Master’s Thesis, 1968)
Cronau, Rudolf. “Unter den Mormonen” Jahresbericht des Frankfurter Veriens für Geographie un Statistik, L, 66-68.
Minutes of a lecture delivered at a meeting of the Frankfurter Verein in 1885, in which Cronau descries the Latter-Day Saints and their achievements in the most glowing terms. He attributes the persecution of the Mormons solely to the jealously of their neighbors, and even sees some good in polygamy namely the abolishment of “spinsterhood.”
Cronau, Rudolf. Im wilden Westen: Eine Künstlerfahrt durch die prairien und Felsengenbirge. (Frankfurt: O. Löbbeke, 1890)
From pages 186 to 209, Cronau describes in detail his time in Salt Lake City, including a history of Latter-Day Saints, his observations of every day life, and his making of the painting.
Die Neue Gartenlaube, Vol. 31 (Frankfurt: A. Scherle Nachfolger, 1883), 764.
One of the publications sponsoring Cronau’s travels, including the first reproduction of Cronau’s painting of Salt Lake City.
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