By Heidi Donner

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a prestigious conservation grant to the Hearst Art Gallery for its William Keith collection.

The Saint Mary's College art collection is widely recognized for housing one of the world's finest collections of paintings by the 19th-century landscape master artist. The Hearst collection holds 163 oil paintings, from monumental light-filled visions of the Sierra Nevada to gentle pastoral landscapes in the coastal hills and mountains, to Pacific Northwest and Alaska scenes.

The grant was awarded just a century after SMC professor Brother Fidelis Cornelius Bragg visited John Muir in his Martinez home and first viewed Keith's landscapes. He was so taken with the vibrant paintings that their study became his life's focus. In 1946 Brother Cornelius, by then the foremost expert on this important California artist, published a 900-page biography of Keith that was exhaustively researched and critically acclaimed.

The grant has allowed the gallery to contract with two of the most renowned painting conservators in the Western world: Andrea Rothe, former head of paintings conservation for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Palazzo Piti in Florence, and Jeanne McKee Rothe, former conservator of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.

"The William Keith Collection is the heart and soul of the Hearst Art Gallery's permanent collection. It exists primarily thanks to the vision and tireless efforts of Brother Cornelius, and the people who later enhanced his vision," says Julie Armistead, registrar and collection manager. "We anticipate that this important work can be followed with future funding to continue the preservation of this wonderful collection for the enjoyment of future generations at Saint Mary's and the greater art community."

Over the next year, the conservators will assess, photograph, document and create a conservation and restoration plan for the paintings and for the future protection and enhancement of the entire Keith collection.

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