In 1908, Brother Cornelius, F.S.C., was teaching in Martinez when, "One day I took a walk up to the home of John Muir, the famous naturalist. There, above the desk in his study, was a painting of the Berkeley Oaks by William Keith. I was intrigued," Brother Cornelius recalled later. "I talked with John Muir for an hour, and I made up my mind to go back again. I began to look for some other Keith works, because I found them nearest to expressing the quality, mystery and wonder of nature of any paintings I had ever seen.”
So began a life's work that spanned more than half a century and made Brother Cornelius the world's foremost expert on this important California landscape painter.
From March 15 through October 18, 2003, in the William Keith Room, alongside the Keith paintings that he loved, the Hearst Art Gallery of Saint Mary's College of California will pay tribute to Brother Cornelius with a display of his paintings, drawings, and sketchbooks. The new exhibition, "The Legacy of Brother Cornelius," will also include letters, photographs, catalogs and other documents that illustrate his lifelong passionate research into the life and art of Keith.
The result of Brother Cornelius' work is a rich visual treasure for visitors. The art professor became the foremost authority on Keith. He worked for nearly 20 years on his benchmark book Keith, Old Master of California (1942). In preparation for his books, he relived Keith’s life, following his footsteps in Europe and America, even to the Mackensie River in Alaska. Throughout his career, he carried on a voluminous correspondence with a wide audience while continuing his exhaustive and meticulous research in to the life of Keith.
Brother Cornelius was an exceptional educator in his own right. For 48 years at Saint Mary's College he was an artist, educator, and inspiration to students. He was born in 1877 in Emmishofen, at the foot of the Alps in northeastern Switzerland. The beauty of his native land inspired his love of the California landscape and his immediate and intense appreciation of Keith's art.
Brother Cornelius worked to make the art gallery the showplace of the campus, attracting art enthusiasts from near and far. He began assembling a collection and envisioned it being housed on the St. Mary's campus in a fitting space. Over the years, he patiently endured three temporary galleries. "I can think of no better memorial to Keith than a Keith gallery at Saint Mary's College where the students can understand and appreciate Keith and absorb the sublime messages of his art," wrote Brother Cornelius in 1931, "The work of California's Old Master would be found in an ideal setting--a sanctuary of learning."
In 1953, with the help of outside benefactors, he dedicated a remodeled and enlarged space as the William Keith Art Gallery. He lectured on his favorite painter every Sunday in the gallery, until his death in a 1962 automobile accident, at the age of 84. In the last year of his life he was still renovating and extending the gallery and working on a book on art education.
Brother Cornelius' focus on Keith had significant impacts far beyond the Saint Mary's campus. He energized museums and galleries to re-evaluate their Keith paintings and display them for public enjoyment.
Today, not far from the site of the original gallery, the Hearst Art Gallery, dedicated in 1977, provides a variety of professional exhibitions. Yet every day the Gallery maintains its faithfulness to Brother Cornelius’ vision in the William Keith Room, where changing exhibitions of the College's remarkable collection is on display for visitors to enjoy. Works from the collection have been on view in museums throughout the United States, Scotland, and Germany. A recent series of exhibitions in the Keith Room, organized in collaboration with the John Muir Memorial Association, explored the influence of John Muir on Keith’s paintings.
The legacy of Brother Cornelius’ energy and effort is the William Keith Collection at Saint Mary's College of California that will be treasured for generations to come.
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For Immediate Release
Contact: Heidi Donner (925) 631-4069 or [email protected]