William Keith

American, 1838 - 1911
William Keith (1838 - 1911)

His early works are dramatic mountainscapes in a realistic style adopted from the Dusseldorf School of Germany. The paintings of the last two decades of his life are looser and obviously influenced by his exposure in France to the Barbizon School of landscape painters, who were the first colony of painters to complete paintings "en plein air," or directly from nature rather than in studios. A forerunner of Impressionism, this style also included Tonalism espoused by Barbizon painter Camille Corot [1796-1875] and also apparent in Keith's later works, which are darker, smaller, and much more intimate with emphasis on mood.

Born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Keith came to New York with his family and, apprenticed to a wood engraver. In 1859, he moved to San Francisco where he worked for an engraver and later set up his own engraving business. Studying with Samuel Marsden Brookes in 1863, he determined to become a painter.

He married artist Elizabeth Emerson and did watercolor painting with her guidance. In 1868, he became a full-time painter, and that same year was commissioned to paint scenes along the Columbia River including Mount Hood. By August 1869 he had sold enough paintings to finance an extended journey to the East Coast and Europe including Dusseldorf, Germany throughout most of 1870, studying with Albert Flamm. After a visit to Paris, he expressed great admiration for "the modern school of French landscape painting including the Barbizon School.

During the winter of 1871-1872, the Keiths lived in Boston where they shared a studio with William Hahn. Keith's work received critical acclaim there and in New York at the National Academy of Design.

In 1872, he returned to San Francisco. A friendship with naturalist John Muir exposed Keith to many remote places and in-depth knowledge of nature. During the 1870s, he painted several "epic" eight by ten-foot High Sierra views. He also visited Alaska, and his paintings of Alaska were exhibited upon his return to San Francisco in a show at the Bohemian Club, titled 'Dreams of Alaska'. Keith's Alaska works are significant because they are not close transcriptions of actual scenery, but rather are fantasies inspired by Alaska. They are important as they represent a major break from the documentary tradition in landscape painting of Alaska, as they show an interest in capturing its spirit versus just the topography.

The first wife of William Keith died in 1882, and in 1883, he married Mary McHenry, the first woman graduate of Hastings Law School. They soon went to Europe, and Keith studied portrait painting in Munich with consultations from J. Frank Currier and Carl Marr for two years. Keith then settled for the remainder of his life in Berkeley, California, at 2207 Atherton Street. His studio was in San Francisco where he commuted daily, painted prolifically, and taught many classes, mostly for aspiring female artists .

In 1891, he shared his studio for several weeks with East Coast Tonalist George Inness, Sr. [1825-1894]. Both men painted in a similar style and were followers of the mystical teachings of Swedenborg. Among the locations where Inness and Keith painted together were Monterey and Yosemite, and it was reported they discussed art from every possible angle. Under Inness' influence, Keith painted more than ever in a Barbizon-influenced vein with many sunset and twilight scenes.

By the early 1900s, Keith was likely one of the wealthiest artists in the United States and certainly earned the most money of any California-based artist. People from all over the world sought out his studio where it was said that he would specially select a painting for a client from behind a black velvet curtain, order everyone to be quiet, part the curtains, and set the work on a easel, flooded in light. It was unthinkable not to buy a painting on these occasions. Many of his paintings were shown in New York at the Macbeth Gallery, and in 1898, he had a special exhibition in New York.

Keith died April 13, 1911, and his work is in most of the institutions representing major California artists. Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California has a collection of Keith paintings established by his biographer, Brother Cornelius.

1838 Born in Scotland
1850 Family moves to New York
1856 Becomes wood engraver's apprentice
1859 Moves to San Francisco, works as wood engraver
1863 Takes painting lessons from Samuel Marsden Brookes
1866 Begins exhibiting watercolors, including Yosemite views
1868 Begins painting oil landscapes; hired to paint in Northwest by Oregon Navigation & Railroad Co.
1869 To Maine and New York, then Düsseldorf; visits Paris (paints Mt. Tamalpais)
1871 Back to Maine, then Boston and back to San Francisco
1872 Meets John Muir and camps with him and artists Benoni Irwin and Thomas Ross near Mt. Lyell
1870 Paints numerous large-scale "epics" of Sierras, Tamalpais and Shasta
1880 Spends several months in New England, New York and Philadelphia
1883 Marries Mary McHenry after death of Elizabeth Emerson Keith
1883 Tours and paints California missions on "honeymoon";
1883 Visited Munich via New York, New England and Washington, D.C.
1883 to 1885 Lives in Munich, focusing on learning portraiture from J. Frank Currier and Carl Marr
1885 Returns to S.F. via Paris; moves to Berkeley
1886 Visits Alaska; paints several Alaska landscapes
1888 Gives lecture on landscape painting at UC Berkeley
1891 Spends several weeks working alongside George Inness in studio, Monterey and Yosemite
1891 Paints FAMSF Glory of the Heavens
1893 Solo exhibition at Macbeth Gallery, New York; included in World's Columbian Exhibition, Chicago
1893 Travels to Chicago, New York, Glasgow, London, Paris and Madrid
1895 to 1905 At peak of recognition and prosperity; paints in wide range of styles. Commissioned to paint two large murals for St. Francis Hotel (destroyed in 1906 fire along with many other Keith paintings); another European trip includes Amsterdam
1907 Solo shows of new work at Macbeth Gallery, New York, and Blanchard Gallery, Los Angeles; visits and paints Hetch Hetchy Canyon
1909 to 1911 Gradually failing health and death.
Written and submitted by Ann Harlow.

Saint Mary's College Museum of Art, Moraga, CA
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX
Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA
Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
De Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME
Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY
Monterey Museum of Art- Pacific, Monterey, CA
Museum of Art at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA
Phippen Art Museum, Prescott, AZ
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, CA
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA
Saint Mary's College Museum of Art, Moraga, CA

2010 Nancy Dustin Wall Moure, Jeffery Morseburg, Tressa Miller, Nat Read, Richard Reitzell. Art at the Jonathan Club
2009 Poulton, Donna L. and Vern G. Swanson. Painters of Utah's Canyons and Deserts
2006 Burgard, Timothy Anglin; Alfred C. Harrison, Jr. California Impressions: Landscapes from the Wendy Willrich Collection
2006 Scott, Amy (Editor); Brian Bibby, William Deverell, et all. Yosemite: Art of an American Icon
2006 Shields, Scott A. Artists at Continent's End: The Monterey Peninsula Art Colony, 1875-1907
2005 AskART.com Inc. - Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson (Editor). The Artists Bluebook: 34,000 North American Artists to March 2005
2005 Davenport, Ray. Davenport's Art Reference: The Gold Edition
2004 Editor, St. Mary's College. Water, Land and Sky: Rediscovering Albert Thomas DeRome
2003 Richter, Marianne; Wendy Greenhouse (Essays). Union League Club of Chicago Art Collection
2003 Stern, Jean; Roy C. Rose and Molly Siple. Enchanted Isle: A History of Plein-Air Painting in Santa Catalina Island
2002 McClelland, Gordon T; Jay T. Last. California Watercolors 1850-1970, An Illustrated History & Biographical Dictionary
2002 Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California: 1786-1940
2000 Fine Art Dealers Association. Los Angeles Art Show Fine Art Dealers Association Presents
2000 Troccoli, Joan Carpenter. Painters and the American West: The Anschutz Collection
1999 Hjalmarson, Birgitta. Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco
1999 Allen, Ginny & Jody Klevit. Oregon Painters The First 100 Years:1859-1959
1999 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975
1998 Gerdts, William; Will South. California Impressionism
1998 Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting & Other Media
1997 Pennington, Estill Curtis. Frontier Sublime Alaskan Art from the Juneau
1995 Nash, Steven A. Facing Eden: 100 Years of Landscape Art in Bay Area
1994 Sweetkind, Irene, W H Gerdts. Master Paintings from the Butler Institute of American Art
1994 High Museum of Art. American Paintings at the High Museum of Art
1993 Eitner, Lorenz (others). The Drawing Collection Stanford University Museum of Art
1993 Carr, Carolyn K. Revisiting the White City American Art at the 1893 World's Fair
1993 Southwest Art. The Red Book Western American Price Index
1993 Woodward, Kesler E. Painting in the North Alaskan Art in the Anchorage Museum
1993 Ward, Roger and Patricia J Fidler (Compilers and Editors). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art A Handbook of the Collection
1993 Stragnell, Robert. Landscapes of the West
1991 Truettner, William H. The West as America Reinterpreting Images of Frontier
1991 Fort, Ilene/Michael Quick. American Art A Catalogue / Los Angeles County
1991 Sweeney, J Gray. Masterpieces of Western American Art
1990 Editor, Sonoma County Museum. Along the Russian River: An Artistic Interpretation
1990 Vincent, Stephen et al. O California ! 19th & Early 20th Century Landscapes
1990 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago
1990 Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: The Far Midwest, Rocky Mountain West, Southwest, Pacific
1990 Falk, Peter Hastings. Annual Exhibition Record, National Academy of Design: 1901-1950
1989 Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California, 1786-1940
1989 Falk, Peter Hastings. Annual Exhibition Record, 1876-1913
1989 Coran, James/W A Nelson-Rees. If Pictures Could Talk: Stories About California Paintings
1989 Maass, Andrew, Valerie Leeds. At the Water's Edge: 19th and 20th Century American Beach Scenes
1988 Columbus Museum of Art. The American Collections: Columbus Museum of Art
1988 Geske, Norman, Karen O. Janovy. The American Painting Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art
1988 Falk, Peter Hastings. Dictionary of Signatures & Monogram
1988 Harrison, Alfred C Jr. William Keith: Saint Mary's College Collection
1987 Weber, Bruce/William H Gerdts. In Nature's Ways American Landscape, Late Nineteenth Century
1987 Sweeney, J Gray/J Ballinger. The Lure of the West, The Carl S Dentzel Collection of W American Art
1986 Westphal, Ruth Lilly. Plein Air Painters of California: The North
1986 Opitz, Glenn B (editor). Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers
1986 Zellman, Michael David. 300 Years of American Art (two volumes)
1985 Smithsonian Institution. National Portrait Gallery Collection Illustrated Checklist
1985 Turner, Frederick. John Muir: Rediscovering America
1985 Huneker, James G/Arnold Schwab. Americans in the Arts 1890-1920
1985 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active Between 1898-1947
1985 Spasky, Natalie. American Painting Vol. 2, Catalog, Metropolitan Mus Artists born 1816-45
1985 Dawdy, Doris. Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary (3 volumes)
1984 Hassrick, Peter H. Treasures of the Old West Thomas Gilcrease Institute
1984 Orr-Cahill, Christina. The Art of California Selected Works / Oakland Museum
1984 Kopitske, Christine (Editor). American Reflections: Paintings 1830-1940
1984 Broder, Patricia Janis. The American West The Modern Vision
1983 Trenton, Patricia/P Hassrick. The Rocky Mountains Vision for Artists in the 19th Century
1982 Westphal, Ruth Lilly. Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland
1982 Gerdts, William H (others). Tonalism: An American Experience
1982 Trenton, Patricia. The West as Art Western Art in Calfornia Collections
1982 Baird, Joseph Armstrong, Jr. Views of Yosemite The Last Stance of the Romantic Landscape
1981 San Diego Museum of Art. Catalogue of American Painting
1980 Van Nostrand, Jeanne. The First Hundred Years of Painting in California 1775-1875
1979 Ballinger, James K. Beyond the Endless River: W American Drawings
1979 Baigell, Mathew. Dictionary of American Art
1979 Myers, Fred. The Treasures of Gilcrease
1979 West, Richard; Alfred Neumeyer; Joseph A. Baird, Jr. Crocker Art Museum: Handbook of Paintings
1979 Brooklyn Museum. American Paintings/Brooklyn Museum: Complete Illustrated Listing of Works
1979 Karpel, Bernard/Ruth Spiegel. Arts in America/A Bibliography,Volume 1 (Sculpture, the West etc)
1979 Editor, Laguna Beach Museum. Southern California Artists 1890-1940
1978 Schimmel, Julie; Gilbert Tapley Vincent. Stark Museum of Art: The Western Collection
1978 Getlein, Frank. The Lure of the Great West
1977 Hoopes, Donelson F. American Watercolor Painting
1976 Anderson, Dennis R. Three Hundred Years of American Art In The Chrysler Museum
1976 Taylor, Joshua C. America as Art
1976 Spangenberg, Helen. Yesterday's Artists on the Monterey Peninsula
1976 Samuels, Peggy and Harold. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
1975 Arkelian, Marjorie. The Kahn Collection Of 19th Century Paintings by Artists in Caifornia
1975 Bermingham, Peter. American Art in the Barbizon Mood
1974 Wilmerding, John (Introductory Essay). 19th Century American Topographic Painters
1974 Frankenstein, Alfred. Our Land, Our Sky, Our Water An Exhibition of American & Canadian Art
1974 Hoopes, Donelson/Nancy Moure. American Narrative Painting
1973 Baird, Joseph Armstrong. The West Remembered
1973 Hills, Patricia. The American Frontier Images and Myths
1973 Naylor, Maria. Exhibition Record 1861-1900, National Academy of Design
1972 Earle, Helen L. Biographical Sketches of American Artists
1972 Amon Carter Museum. Amon Carter Museum of Western Art, Catalogue of the Collection 1972
1972 Taylor, Joshua. National Parks and the American Landscape
1972 Corn, Wanda M. The Color of Mood American Tonalism 1880-1910
1972 Forster, Peggy; Julie Snow Birkhimer; Mae Huntington. Catalog - Springville Museum of Art
1972 Curry, Larry. The American West Painters from Catlin to Russell
1971 Graham, F Lanier. Three Centuries of American Painting: From the Collections of M H deYoung Museum and Palace of Legion of Honor
1971 Harmsen, Dorothy. Harmsen's Western Americana
1970 Cohen, Mildred. Tonalism: An American Interpretation of Landscape
1969 Chapellier Galleries. American Art Selections Turn of the Century
1969 Rathbone, Perry Townsend (Ed). American Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
1969 Canaday, John. The Lives of the Painters in Four Volumes
1966 North Carolina Museum of Art. American Paintings to 1900 Catalogue of Paintings, Vol 1
1966 Los Angeles County Museum. American Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
1957 Groce, George; David Wallace. The New York Historical Society's Dictionary of Artists in America 1564-1860
1956 McCracken, Harold. Western Paintings A Distinguished Collection
1953 Taft, Robert. Artists and Illustrators - Old West 1850-1900
1952 McCracken, Harold. Portrait of the Old West
1938 Neuhaus, Eugen William Keith. The Man & the Artist
1936 Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Main Currents in the Development of American Art
1935 Mallett, Daniel Trowbridge. Index of Artists: International-Biographical
1935 De Young Memorial Museum. Exhibition of American Painting
1932 Hartmann, Sadekichi. A History of American Painting
1931 Neuhaus, Eugen. The History and Ideals of American Art
1921 Bryant, Lorinda Munson. American Pictures & their Painters

Cornelius, Brother F. Keith, Old Master of California. New York, 1942, and vol. 2, Fresno, 1956.
Harrison, Alfred C., Jr., and Ann Harlow. William Keith: The Saint Mary's College Collection. Moraga, 1988, and Supplement, 1994.
Hjalmarson, Birgitta. Artful Players: Artistic Life in Early San Francisco. Los Angeles, 1999.
Moure, Nancy Dustin Wall. California Art: 450 Years of Painting and Other Media. Los Angeles, 1998
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