Homage to William Keith

In 1915, San Francisco held a world’s fair commemorating the opening of the Panama Canal. Known as the Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), this fair celebrated a symbolic and cultural rebuilding for San Francisco in response to the devastating destruction of the 1906 earthquake and fire. The Palace of Fine Arts presented Avante-Garde approaches to painting in Europe, brought forth Western awareness to block prints from Japan, and commemorated a shared perception of American grandeur in landscape painting. Spectators could saunter through each designated gallery experiencing, considering, and absorbing these varying approaches to art. William Keith (1838–1911) Portrait of William Keith, 1870s, archival material [95.19]

Within the Palace of Fine Arts, a designated pavilion displayed twenty-eight paintings and paid tribute to the late landscape painter, William Keith (1838–1911). From Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art’s permanent collection, the three William Keith paintings in this gallery demonstrate 18th and 19th–century landscape grandeur through the aesthetic balance of the sublime and picturesque. In High Sierra Canyon, the alluring angle and perspective of the mountain vistas generated awe for many who only knew of Yosemite through descriptions and exploration tales. Woods and Reflections of Clouds, Somber, and Grand, compositionally balances a meadow scene of the picturesque while subtly alluding to the sublime through the dark shadows of the woods. San Raphael at Moonlight soothes the viewer with a calming silence rendered through loose soft brushstrokes. Yet, the night’s stillness evokes a lingering sense of mystery and unknown. The loose strokes in Keith’s work convey mood and feeling to the viewer. Keith’s subtle artistic choice away from precise representation to explore abstraction as a mode to convey specific ideas alluded to avant-garde practices in 20th Century art. Such artistic practices and aesthetic concepts were shared and considered amongst spectators at the PPIE, impacting merging ideas about art and what art could be. 

As you move beyond these Keith paintings, consider how artists who experienced the sublime and picturesque might have rejected or emulated some of Keith’s aesthetic practices. Consider how Modernism, which brought forth new expression through abstraction, space, and materials, could still elicit a sensational response in the viewer. What feelings do the artwork in this gallery evoke in you? How might the work convey the sublime or the picturesque? 

Forward to Next Gallery

All images are subject to the copyright of Saint Mary's College Museum of Art Permanent Collection 

Return to Aesthetic Forces>>