American, born Scotland
(Aberdeen, Scotland, 1839 - 1911, Berkeley, California)
William Keith, a native of Scotland, immigrated to the United States in 1850. He was working as an engraver when, in 1858, an assignment from Harper’s magazine sent him to California for the first time. Keith fell in love with the dramatic, vast expanses of the West and moved to San Francisco, California the following year. Keith befriended the naturalist John Muir in 1872, and often accompanied him on expeditions in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Yosemite Valley. Keith was an original member of the Sierra Club, founded by Muir in 1892.
Keith’s early California landscapes reveal the influence of the Hudson River School tradition of dramatic, large-scale and richly detailed landscapes. Hudson River School artists Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran also journeyed to document the imposing grandeur of the West’s mountain ranges and together with Keith are sometimes referred to as the Rocky Mountain School. Around 1885, Keith began to incorporate his own subjective experience of nature in his artwork. His paintings became more lyrical and contemplative, revealing his deep love for California. This later stage in Keith’s career coincides with several trips to Europe and the East Coast, where he encountered works by artists affiliated with the Barbizon School, and his growing friendship with the artist George Inness. Inness introduced Keith to Swedenborgianism, a religion that teaches all things in nature share a spiritual essence.