Born in Solingen, Germany, Rudolf Cronau enjoyed a career as a kind of “global correspondent” for periodicals of the day. He studied at the Dusseldorf Academy and then moved to Leipzig, the leading cultural and publishing center in Germany. One of his first assignments asked him to “describe and depict all those natural wonders which had been discovered in the far west of the United States during the first part of the 19th century.” Cronau was asked to both illustrate and provide a written account of all scenes considered unusual to the German public. A German Romantic in style, Cronau’s artwork reveals an extraordinary draftsman, with great accuracy and a masterful use of light and shade.
The majority of Cronau’s drawings were made from life as a result of direct observation. Cronau’s travels in the U.S. included the Standing Rock Reservation and Fort Randall, where he met Sitting Bull and several other Native American dignitaries. He continued to explore the West including the Badlands, Yellowstone Park, and the Southwest, specifically Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Eventually, he traveled to California’s coast. At the end of his life, he said that he considered his trips through the American West among the high points of his career.