Mount Tamalpaisc. 1879 by
Keith, William 1838-1911
The focal point of this painting, 2751-foot-high Mount Tamalpais, is a landmark of the San Francisco Bay area. Located just north of the San Francisco in Marin County, it was a popular outdoor resort spot in the late nineteenth century. The prominent peak was also a recurrent theme if local orators, writers, and artists. It served Keith as a stock subject over many years.
Keith's subject is a late example of a Romantic favorite. Mountian scenes first became fashionable in Europe in the late eighteenth century, in the wake of geological exploration and imaginative literature on the same subject. From Europe the theme spread to the United States, where it was a standard feature in Hudson River School painting. Just before the paintings of California ranges became popular in San Francisco in the 1860s, works by Bierstadt and Frederic Church (1826-1900) inspired new admiration for this lofty theme. About the same time, John Ruskin was proclaiming mountains to be "the beginning and end of all natural scenery" and Americans were reading the enthusiastic accounts of the mountaineering adventures of John Muir and Clarence King. Thus, Keith's choice of subject and its success with his patrons are understandable. Keith seemed to answer King's call for a painter who would celebrate the Sierra as Turner (1775-1851) had celebrated that Alps.
This panoramic view is the confident work of a mature artist who was well established in the San Francisco art world of the 1870s. In subject, style, and technique, it is typical of many of the works produced in the years immediately following Keith's return from Dusseldorf. It demonstrates how his German training enhanced his skill in depicting depth and atmosphere, for which he was so often praised by San Francisco critics. This is achieved by layering light and shadow. The sunlit knoll on the left - where a tiny hunter has been placed to establish scale - comes strongly forward from the shadowed hill of the middle ground, while the distant valley and mountain, their colors paled and contours softened by a moist atmosphere, seem miles away. Recession is intensified by contrasts of color and paint texture. The foreground is rich with touches of many hues and painted solidly with tick, rugged strokes, while thin, blended paint creates an opalescent effect in the far hills, which are silhouetted against a luminous sky. Through masterful gradations of color and light, Keith conveys his own heightened experience of nature.
Size (inches): 40 1/2 x 72
Medium: Oil on Board
Location: Hull Gallery