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Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West

March 19 - May 16, 2004


The artist at the heart of Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West led a peripatetic life. Born in Scotland in 1838, Keith emigrated to the United States, where, after a time in New York, he eventually crossed the country to settle in San Francisco. In California he befriended the Wisconsin artist Samuel Marsden Brooks and, in 1872, the naturalist and fellow-Scot John Muir, who would be instrumental in establishing the America's national parks system. In the mid 1880s Keith traveled to Munich where Carl von Marr was his teacher after previous study trips to Dusseldorf and Boston.

Keith's stunning paintings reveal the unspoiled beauty of America's western lands and were instrumental in exposing a little-known area of America to a population who still predominantly lived on the coasts. His early work was influenced and championed by Muir, but as he matured as an artist, Keith's landscapes metamorphosed from painstakingly accurate renditions of a scene to a more evocative, spiritual expression of the landscape.

If there is one unifying theme to Keith's painting, it is deep connection and devotion to nature. Over the course of his long career (the paintings in the exhibition span forty-one years) he encountered many influences: John Muir's naturalism, John Ruskin's writings, his trips to Europe, the paintings of Rembrandt and the Old Masters and his friend and fellow painter, George Inness. Nevertheless, his work is that of a singular artist who offers an opportunity to see what Muir called "the heart and of the landscape."

Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West is organized by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services from the Collection of Saint Mary's College in California. According to Heidi Ehrman Donner's text from the exhibition brochure: "The Saint Mary's College Collection is the result of one man's labor of love. Brother Fidelis Cornelius, F.S.C. (Herman Emanuel Braeg), a Saint Mary's College art professor, first saw Keith's works in John Muir's home in 1908. The paintings immediately convinced Brother Cornelius of Keith's genius. Muir's enthusiastic accounts of the artist further inspired the Swiss emigrant, who was himself a landscape painter and avid mountaineer, to make Keith the subject of much of his life's work. During his thirty-year tenure at Saint Mary's College, he wrote a 900-page biography of Keith. Principally through his efforts and research, and with the support and collaboration of Keith's widow, including a gift of 34 paintings, the College's collection now numbers more than 150 paintings, along with sketchbooks, a palette, and ephemera."

Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West will be supplemented by a small exhibition featuring works from the West Bend Art Museum's own permanent collection. Keith's magnificent paintings will be supplemented by Carl von Marr's work as well as those from some of his Wisconsin students who attended the Munich Academy. It will highlight Keith's connection to Carl von Marr and other students of the Milwaukee-born master such as Adam Emory Albright, Frank Enders, Alexander Mueller and Louis Mayer. Throughout his career, both in the US and in Germany, Marr was a teacher in addition to being an artist, something that was recognized in 1919 when he assumed the post of Director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich.


Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:

Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West (7/10/03)
Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the American West (7/25/03)
For Wisconsin art history see Art Teachers, Art Schools and Art Museums in Early Wisconsin, essay segment by Peter C. Merrill; Society of Milwaukee Artists, essay segment by Gay Donahue; Wisconsin's New Art Deal, essay segment by Mary Michie; Preface to "Foundations of Art in Wisconsin", Prominence in 19th Century Regional Art, Preface / A Century of Artistic Endeavor and Wisconsin Art from Euro-American Settlement to 1950, essays and essay segments by Thomas D. Lidtke.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the West Bend Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.