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Painted Essays: William Keith's Landscapes of the West

August 14 - October 3, 2004


When Scotsman William Keith trekked up to the door of a rustic cabin in the grand Yosemite Valley in 1872, he walked into the life of a kinsman in spirit, another Scot, and another passionate lover of the grand California panorama, John Muir. Each 34, each immigrating from Scotland as children for the boundless opportunity of America. Each eventually drawn to the unbridled natural magnificence of California, the two became spiritual brothers in the mysticism of America's most magnificent mountains in a single day. (left: William Keith, Donner Lake)

Through nearly 40 years of friendship, Muir and Keith rejoiced in the spectacular and uplifting natural exuberance of California's grand Sierra Nevada, the Range of Light. Muir, known as the father of the National Park system and founder of the Sierra Club, captured the magnificence of the Sierra in words.

Yet, when Muir introduced Keith to the Sierra's majestic beauty, he may have contributed

even more to the public appreciation of the mountains, for Keith captured the Sierra on canvas with bold and precise colors. Their travels, correspondence, and collaborations form a natural framework for encouraging a closer look at Keith's art and may even foster greater understanding of the artistic and environmental heritage of the West.

More than 50 of Keith's finest works, from grand panoramic and brilliantly lit landscapes to dark and moody forest glades at sunset, are on loan to the Tucson Museum of Art, from the renowned Hearst Art Gallery Collection at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California. The largest public collection of Keith's works, the Saint Mary's collection is the legacy of Brother F. Cornelius Braeg, F.S.C., who saw Keith's paintings for the first time during a 1908 visit to John Muir's home. Brother Cornelius was so moved by the paintings and by Muir's accounts of their mountain explorations that he resolved to devote the rest of his life to the study of William Keith, master of the Western landscape.

The showing at Tucson Museum of Art, from August 14th - October 3rd, 2004, is part of a twelve city national tour over a two and a half year period and is organized by the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College, Moraga, California Tour Development by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri.


Related Event:

Handz-On! @ Bookman's Animals of the West
August 15, 2004 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Bookman's on Speedway Community Room.
Invent an animal that could live in the forests and deserts of the Wild West. Sculpt or collage your critter from some mighty fabulous material. Inspired by TMA's exhibit Painted Essays.


Related August exhibition:

In Small Deaths, opening August 14, 2004 Directions Series artist, Kate Breakey poetically presents a silent reverie for the beauty found in the precious animals and flowers of the desert. Breakey photographs flowers, birds, lizards, rabbits and other animals that have met an untimely death. She finds these subjects in her own environment at the base of the Tucson Mountains, discovered on walks about the desert, or given by friends. Posing her subjects in the manner of an Old Master portrait, she then painstakingly paints her photographs in several layers of oils and colored pencils to bring out the details and colors of sensuous petals, brilliant plumage, reptilian skin, and lush pelts. Often her images include Latin and English script at the bottom that classifies the species, acting as epitaphs to their memory. Breakey is not glorifying the deaths of these living things, but in her careful rendering, she memorializes their lives, raising their lifeless bodies to one of beauty and dignity.

Small Deaths will continue through October 3, 2004 in the Cauthorn Berger-Hanft Gallery. (right: Kate Breakey, Cardinal)

Resource Library editor's note:

Also see the biography of William Keith from Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, vol. one, East Bay Heritage Project, Oakland, 2012 by Robert W. Edwards

and these Resource Library articles:

also from the Web:

this book readable online in full via Google Books:

Songs from the Golden Gate, By Ina Donna Coolbrith, illustrated by William Keith. Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1895. Original from Harvard University. Digitized Jan 23, 2008. 159 pages

these books:

and this VHS/DVD video:

William Keith: The Artist and His Times, is a 1995 video running 23 minutes and features images from the St. Mary's College Collection. A Studio Miramar Production. The Hearst Art Gallery website says of the video: "When William Keith arrives in California in 1859, he begins a fifty-year artistic and emotional journey. His early paintings strive to capture the drama of the Western wilderness. But by the 1890s, Keith paints subtle, intimate landscapes that reveal his artistic and spiritual maturity. In this documentary, more than fifty of Keith's paintings show the range of his artistic vision. Historic photographs, footage of California scenes today, and the words of the artist, his friend John Muir, and their contemporaries help tell the story of this remarkable artist and his times." The Gallery's description adds: "Studio Miramar has remastered our excellent video, 'William Keith: The Artist and His Times,' into DVD format. An important addition to the library of works about the late 19th century master artist, the comprehensive, educational and entertaining presentation juxtaposes rare archival photographs with spectacular contemporary footage of the Western wilderness, extensive presentation of Keith's paintings, and the words of John Muir, Keith, and others." (right: VHS video cover)

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of DVDs listed in this catalogue.

On March 31, 2007 the Hearst Art Gallery, Saint Mary's College sent to TFAO notice of a new exhibition titled "William Keith: The 1880s Paintings ". The news release reads:

This decade marked great changes in the artist's life, beginning with the death of his wife, still life painter Elizabeth Emerson, in March of 1882. Some of the 1880s paintings show his increasing enthusiasm about a more reflective and subjective approach to capturing the landscape on canvas, attributed to his friendship with Reverend Joseph Worcester and Swedenborgian philosophy, which inspired him to suggest a divine presence inherent in the beauty of nature.
His 1883 marriage to Mary McHenry, attorney and leader of the suffragette movement in the Bay Area was followed by extensive travel: a stay in New York and New England before embarking on a lengthy European trip centering around a Munich sojourn, the addition of European influenced portraiture in his body of work, an 1886 trip to Alaska in John Muir's footsteps, and an 1888 trip with Muir to Lake Tahoe and Mount Shasta.
Although there was a general trend in his painting from tightly rendered detail and bright sunlight to broader brush strokes and darker scenes, the path was not a straightforward one. His work continued to reflect various influences, including his personal predilections and moods, art market forces, interest in the old masters, especially Rembrandt, and allegiances to friends of different art persuasions.

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