THE COMPREHENSIVE KEITH:
A CENTENNIAL TRIBUTE

August 26, 2012 – January 27, 2013

Image: Mount Tamalpais, Golden Morning, 1872, oil on canvas, 40 x 72 inches. Collection of
the Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art,
Gift of Sidney L. Schwartz in honor of
Garrett W. McEnerney.

This exhibition of over 50 paintings paid tribute to early California master artist William Keith (1838-1911) and the extensive collection of his art amassed over the last hundred years at Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga. This exhibition was organized and circulated by the Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (formally the Hearst Art Gallery). The paintings exhibited at the Grace Hudson Museum were selected by Marvin Schenck, Curator at the Grace Hudson Museum and former Curator of the Hearst Art Gallery, from an original larger exhibition of paintings shown at Saint Mary’s College in 2011.

Scotland-born Keith immigrated to New York as a boy with his family in 1850. After an apprenticeship with a wood engraver, he worked for Harper and Brothers publications, before going west to San Francisco in 1859. On arriving, Keith found success as an engraver and illustrator. However, by 1867 he had left the commercial enterprise to become a painter. His first lucrative commissions were to paint the dramatic scenery of the Pacific Northwest for the Northern Pacific and Oregon Railroad Companies.

The prolific Keith’s career is one of artistic transition. His earliest paintings were precise renderings of nature that brought him quick recognition. From that early work he developed a more rapid, looser style of depicting the California landscape that eventually led him to concentrate on the spiritual and romantic aspects of nature. It was not a straight path of development but one that reflected his changing moods and various influences which included work by close friends John Muir and Swedenborgian minister Joseph Worchester; the precepts of John Ruskin; the transcendentalists; painting and study trips to Europe; the French Barbizon artists; and the American artist George Inness.

Portrait of William Keith, Unknown Photographer, c. 1870s. Collection of Saint Mary’s College of Art, Gift of Brother F. Cornelius Braeg, F.S.C.

Portrait of William Keith,
Unknown Photographer, c. 1870s.
Collection of Saint Mary’s College of Art,
Gift of Brother F. Cornelius Braeg, F.S.C.

Saint Mary’s College has been the leading Keith research institution for more than a century, building and caring for an unrivalled and comprehensive collection of his works. More than a century ago Brother Cornelius, F.S.C., recognized Keith as a master and began the work that has culminated in the College’s current collection of 180 Keith paintings. In conjunction with its centennial exhibit, the College published The Comprehensive Keith, a 232-page book with 266 illustrations. Through its informative essays, careful research and stunning reproductions, the volume presents a detailed account of Keith’s work and his significant place in the history of Western Art. The book was available for purchase in the Grace Hudson Museum Store.

Funding of this exhibition was made possible by the Sun House Guild, Tom & Melissa Thornhill, the Thornhill Family Foundation, Amy Neel, and the Neel Foundation.