William Keith

William Keith, landscape painter, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on November 21, 1838. In 1950, Keith immigrated with his family to New York where as a teenager, he was an apprentice wood engraver. It is believed that he spent two months in San Francisco in 1858 as an employee of Harper Brothers publishers. Following this assignment, he visited Scotland and worked in England for the London Daily News. Having saved enough money, he returned to San Francisco in 1859 with the wish to stay. He went to work in the engraving shop of Harrison Eastman and later established his own engraving business with Durbin Van Vleck at 611 Clay Street.

Keith became interested in painting and first studied with Samuel Brooks in 1863. The following year he married an artist, Elizabeth Emerson, and under her tutelage, began painting in watercolor. In 1868, he gave up engraving to fully devote his time to painting. The Keiths spent the following year in Dusseldorf, were William studied with Flamm and Achenbach. After visiting the museums and galleries of Dresden and Paris, they returned to the U.S. and opened a studio in Boston which they shared with William Hahn, a fellow artist. Upon returning to San Francisco in 1872, Keith met naturalist John Muir, who took him into the most remote parts of Yosemite, taught him the names of trees and plants, and thoroughly acquainted him with nature's wonders. Keith's wife died in 1882; one year later, he married Mary McHenry, who was the first woman to graduate from Hastings Law School. In 1883, Keith made his second trip to Europe to study portraiture with Carl Marr in Munich for three years. Shortly after returning to California, the Keiths moved to Berkeley into a home at 2207 Atherton where Keith lived until his demise on April 13,1911.

His oeuvre can generally be divided into two periods--his early works are often mountain epics in descriptive realism as espoused by the Dusseldorf School, whereas, the paintings done during the last two decades of his life are more closely akin to those of the Barbizon painters. His later paintings are darker, smaller and more intimate, with a heavier emphasis on mood. Keith commuted daily by ferry to his San Francisco studio and many of his later works are pastoral landscapes of Berkeley with oak trees, cows, and ponds, which he sketched en route. He painted nearly 4,000 oil paintings of which 2,000 burned in the fire of 1906. The women artists who studied under Keith are many; he seldom took male pupils. Keith’s style was copied by several artists and there are forgeries in existence. He has been called "Dean of California Artists" and "California's Old Master". Honors accorded Keith include an entire room devoted to his work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915; the Keith Gallery was opened in 1934 at Saint Mary's College in Moraga; and in 1956 the William Keith Memorial Gallery opened at the Oakland Public Library. Streets in Oakland are named for him. An allegorical mural in the San Francisco Public Library painted by Frank Vincent Dumond includes the likeness of William Keith as representing California Art.

Member: San Francisco Art Association; Bohemian Club.

Exhibited: National Academy of Design, 1882; Chicago's World 1893; California Midwinter Exposition, 1894.

Awards: Medal California State Fair, 1891 silver medal, Mechanics Institute Fair, 1894; Bronze medal Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, 1909.

Works Held: Crocker Museum: Southwest Museum, Pasadena; Mills College, Oakland; University of California at Berkley; Stanford University; Metropolitan Museum of Art: Art Institute of Chicago; California State Capitol, Sacramento; Cleveland Museum; Carnegie Institute; Brooklyn Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Sierra Nevada Museum; Reno.

Hughes, Edan M. Artists In California 1786-1940. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Sacramento: Crocker, Art Museum, 2002. N. pag. 2 vols. Print.