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William Keith (American 1838 – 1911) Old Forest Clearing

Oil on canvas, 7.5 x 14.5 inches / Signed lower left

Born in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Keith immigrated to New City i 1850. Known as the "Dean of California painters”, he is believed to have first visited San Francisco, California in 1858 on behalf of his New York employer, Harper & Brothers publishers. In 1858, Keith returned to San Francisco where he worked for an engraver, having gained the necessary skills during his apprenticeship to a New York engraver as a youth. Although he later opened his own engraving business, he had a penchant to become an artist and began studying art with San Francisco artist, Samuel Marsden Brookes. He concentrated on his painting career after marrying watercolorist Elizabeth Emerson in 1864. In 1868 he gave up his business to concentrate on oil painting full-time. In 1869, Keith was commissioned by the Oregon Navigation & Railroad Company to paint scenes along the Columbia River including Mount Hood. His initial success as a painter provided him with the means to fund a trip to Europe for additional study in 1869. Keith and his wife traveled to Düsseldorf, Germany, where he studied with landscapist Albert Flamm and Andreas Achenbach at the Dusseldorf Academy. The Keiths also visited Paris where he was exposed to the plein air painting of the Barbizon School. By the winter of 1871, they were back in the Unites States, accompanied by German artist, William Hahn. For the remainder of the winter, into 1872, the artists shared a studio in Boston, Massachusetts. The couple returned to San Francisco, where William was introduced to naturalist John Muir. The two became life-long friends and in 1888 Keith accompanied Muir to Mount Shasta and Mount Rainier to create illustrations for Muir's Picturesque California. In 1883 Keith and his second wife traveled to Munich, Germany so that he could hone his portrait skills. While en route, he was fortunate to meet Daniel Burnham, famous Chicago architect and Director of Works for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, who became his patron. Not unsurprisingly, Keith exhibited at the 1892-93 Exhibition. Prior to the late 1880s Keith’s landscape paintings were executed in the romantic, detail-oriented manner of the American Hudson River School. His later landscapes appear to have been influenced by the looser style of the Barbizon artists, much to the chagrin of his friend John Muir, who chided him that his should stick to “geologic reality”. A trip with Muir to Yosemite National Park in 1907, following the Great San Francisco earthquake and fire, which destroyed his studio and a number of his completed paintings saw a return to his earlier realism of painting landscapes. His accurate portrayal of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, prior to its damming for a reservoir, was highly regarded at the time.

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