William Keith

(1838 – 1911)

 

William Keith

William Keith arrived in New York as a boy in 1850. He travelled widely with the photographer Carleton E. Watkins and the naturalist and conservationist John Muir, who called him a “poet-painter.” Keith arrived in Yosemite Valley with a letter of introduction from a mutual friend, Jeanne Carr, in1872. Flor Hutchings led Keith and two other painters to Muir who was at his cabin below the Royal Arches. Keith inquired whether Muir knew of any views that would make a picture. Muir replied that he did, and two days later led a group of four (Keith, Irwin Benoni, Thomas Ross, and Merrill Moores) to the upper Tuolumne River area. As it turned out, Willie and Johnnie, as they soon called each other, were born in the same year in Scotland. They became close friends for the next forty years, until Keith's death in 1911. Keith wrote in his journal that “When we got to Mount Lyell, it was the grandest thing I ever saw. It was late in October, and at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The frost had changed the grasses and a kind of willow to the most brilliant yellows and reds; these contrasting with the two-leafed pine and Williamson spruce, the cold gray rocks, the colder snow, made a glorious sight.” Muir reported the outing rather differently, writing that when they rounded a corner and Mt. Lyell came into view, “Keith dashed forward, shouting and gesticulating and waving his arms like a madman.” Keith, an epicure, also wrote that Muir was a poor provider on their outings, and that he tired of bread, dried meat, and sugarless coffee.
           Using canvasses as large as 10 feet, Keith’s early landscapes showed the grandeur and scale of the Sierras. It was a world that few in the American East could have dreamed existed. While Muir’s words could fire the Eastern imagination, Keith’s paintings made those imaginings concrete. Later in life, Muir asked Keith to accompany him on two final trips, in 1907 and 1909, to California’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. Muir's final environmental crusade was to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley from being flooded in order to serve as a reservoir for San Francisco. Muir held up Keith’s paintings of the valley during a plea before Congress, asking members to “preserve (the valley) in pure wildness for all time for the benefit of the entire nation.” Keith was also one of the founders of the Sierra Club.
            Keith completed many thousands of paintings, some of which were lost in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

 

Mount Lyell, California Sierra

Mount Lyell, California Sierra, 1874

 

 


Yosemite Domes

 

 


Donner Lake

 

 

Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point, 1879

 

Yosemite Valley, 1875

 

Sentinel Rock, 1872

 

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Headwaters of the Merced, 1901

 

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The Crown of the Sierra, unk

 

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High Sierra Canyon, 1876

 

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Three Brothers, 1869

 

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El Capitan, unk

 

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Stream in the Sierra Nevada, unk

 

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Sierra River Landscape, unk

 

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In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unk

 

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California Pines, 1878

 

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Mono Pass, 1877

 

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Hetch Hetchy Side Canyon,

 

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Donner Pass, 1895

 

 

LINKS

 

AskArt

Art Cyclopedia/

Art Net

Biography

 

PUBLICATIONS

 

Hay, Emily H. William Keith as Prophet Painter. (Kenneth Starosciak Bookseller),1983.

St. Mary’s College. William Keith: The Saint Mary's College Collection), 1994

 

Eugen Neuhaus. William Keith: the Man and the Artist. 1938. Berkeley: University of California Press.

 

DVD, William Keith: The Artist and His Times (St. Mary’s College), 2005. Contact (925) 631-4379 to order a copy.