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Henry Keller

 (1869 - 1949)
Henry George Keller was active/lived in Ohio, California, Nova Scotia.  Henry Keller is known for landscape, figure, animal-circus painting, etching, teaching.

Henry Keller

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Henry Keller

Keller, a leading painter in Cleveland, was born at sea, off Nova Scotia on April 3, 1869.  His earliest training was in Karlsruhe, Germany under Hermann Baisch (1846-1894), then at the Cleveland School of Art, the Cincinnati Fine Arts Academy and the Art Students League in New York.  The young artist was an apprentice at the W. J. Morgan Lithograph Company, also in Cleveland.  Keller polished off his art instruction at the Munich Academy (1899-1902) with Heinrich Johann Zügel (1850-1941), chiefly an animal painter.  There he would have rubbed shoulders with Walt Kuhn.  At the end of his stay in Munich, he won a silver medal.  His watercolor, Santa Maria della Salute, in a private collection, is in the tradition of John Singer Sargent.  According to Arthur Covey, Keller was back in Munich in 1904-05, and he mentioned a painting called Storm-frightened Animals (Weimer, 1940, pp. 570-572).  In Munich, Keller also met William Sommer, a future Cleveland post-impressionist.  

Back in America, Keller immediately found a job at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh then he taught at his alma mater, the Cleveland School of Art until 1945.  In Cleveland, remarked Keller (in Milliken, 1950), there was "a kind of pale, timid, watered Impressionism" and he reacted against it.  Charles Burchfield, one of his more famous students, studied at the Cleveland School of Art between 1912 and 1916, when Keller was studying Asian art and showing modernist tendencies, having surpassed impressionism.  Keller was also an enthusiast of Diaghelev's Ballets Russes, which he saw on their American tour.  He studied the psychology of color with Dr. J. J. R. Macleod and underwent Cézanne's influence.  Also at that time, Keller exhibited two works at the Armory Show — Wisdom and Destiny (Cleveland Museum of Art) and The Valley (unlocated).  The former shows Keller's more traditional, intellectual side, with its classical allegorical figures in a stormy landscape.  The theme was inspired by one of Maurice Maeterlinck's essays.  Keller's modernism is revealed in the contemporary watercolor entitled Sunflower, in the same museum, which recalls some of the bravura of the free brushwork of John Marin. Keller was part of a group called the Cleveland Independents.

The list of Keller's exhibition activities is truly amazing — from local venues in Cleveland to Chicago (including a special show of his wash drawings in May of 1920), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, his works were on view year by year.  The Cleveland Museum of Art presented him with awards on numerous occasions and in 1939, he was elected to the National Academy of Design.  That year, his painting Circus Day was on display at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco, while at the New York World's Fair in 1939, his Horse Barn appeared in the exhibition of contemporary artists.  Here the horses are closer to those of German Expressionist Franz Marc than to those of Degas. The Whitney Museum has Keller's charcoal and watercolor, Bird Rock, California (1925).  The painter died in San Diego, on August 3, 1949.

Warshawsky, Abel, The Memories of an American Impressionist [1931]. Kent State University Press: 1980, pp. 138, 140, 164; Clark, Edna Maria, Ohio Art and Artists. Richmond, VA: Garrett and Massie, 1932, pp. 256, 344; Hall, W. S., Eyes on America: The United States as Seen by Her Artists. New York: Studio Publications, 1939, p. 112; Milliken, William Mathewson, The Henry G. Keller Memorial Exhibition. Cleveland Museum of Art: 1950; Hoffman, Jay, Dee Driscole, and Mary Clare Zahler, A Study of Regional Taste: The May Show 1919-1975. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1977, pp. 45, 49, 52; Vermilion, David A., "To Trap a Convincing Reality: The Life and Work of Henry G. Keller," M.A. thesis, Kent State University: 1982; Leffingwell, Edward G., Henry Keller 1869-1949: The Artist as Teacher. Traveling exh. cat. Youngstown, OH: Catholic Publishing Co., 1983; Preato, Robert R., Sandra L. Langer, and James D. Cox, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Transformations in the Modern American Mode, 1885-1945. New York: Grand Central Art Galleries, 1988, pp. 35, 55; Keny, James M. and Nannette V. Maciejunes, Triumph of Color and Light: Ohio Impressionists. Columbus, OH: Columbus Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 67, 116-117, 151.

Submitted by Richard H. Love and Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Henry Keller
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Henry Keller had a forty-year career as a teacher at the Cleveland School of Art and also directed a summer school at Berlin Heights, Ohio. He became the first artist in Ohio to achieve distinction in watercolor. By combining watercolor with tempera and other media, he created innovations widely adopted by his students including Charles Burchfield, Paul Travis, and Frank Wilcox. However, few remaining examples of his work have been found.

He was first trained at the Western Reserve School of Design for Women where he received special permission to attend classes. In 1890, he spent a year in Karlsruhe, Germany at the Art Academy and then returned to Cleveland to work as a circus poster designer for the Morgan Lithograph Company.

In 1899, he returned to Germany for further art studies and enrolled at academies in Dusseldorf and Munich. In 1902, he received a medal in a Munich Royal Academy exhibition and then returned to Cleveland to begin his teaching career.

Around 1903, he began painting outdoors at his family's farm near Berlin Heights, about 40 miles west of Cleveland, and since it was easily reached by train, other artists began to follow. By 1909, he had formally established his art school there.

He also collaborated with John MacCleod of Western Reserve University on a three-year scientific study of color theory. And 1913 he co-authored an article on "the physiology of color vision in modern art."

By 1913, he was the region's most outspoken advocate of avant-garde art and wrote the introductory essay for the catalogue of an exhibition of French Cubist paintings at the William Taylor Gallery in Cleveland in the summer of 1913. He lectured widely on the defense of European modernism, and two of his paintings were in the New York Armory Show.

Keller constantly traveled and often used watercolor to capture his impressions of Spain, Portugal, Puerto Rico, and the Austrian Tyrol. To capture the essence of each place he often worked quickly with spontaneous brushstrokes and pure color rather than the "literal descriptions of topography."

He was especially influenced by Paul Cezanne and Henri Matisse and developed a method of outlining his forms with intense blue to create a sense of volume. He also adopted Japanese methods of using decorative, rhythmic designs and the spirited brushwork in Chinese watercolor painting.


Robinson, W. "Henry Keller, Paintings of a Traveler." American Art Review, Winter 1994

Additional Periodical listings:

American Art Review, Winter 1994
Henry Keller, Painting of a Traveler
by: William Robinson

This is a 4 page article with color images featuring works from the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The American Magazine of Art, September 1936
An appraisal by His Best Know Student
by: Charles Burchfield

This is a 9 page article with color and black and white images.

American Artist, January 1944
The Abundant Career of Henry G. Keller
by: Frank N. Wilcox

This is a 7 page article with color and black and white images.

Timeline, March/June 2003
A Publication of the Ohio Historical Society
Henry Keller and the Berlin Heights Art Colony
by: James M. Keny

Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Henry Keller
Born aboard ship off Nova Scotia of German parents on April 3, 1869. The Keller family settled in Ohio. Henry studied in Cleveland at the Institute of Art and for 43 years taught at that school. During the 1890s he worked there at the Morgan Lithograph Company, during which time he studied in NYC at the ASL. Keller made his first trip to California in 1915 to attend the PPIE. Following a visit to San Diego in 1925, he spent several summers there. He was elected an associate of the National Academy in 1939. In 1948 he moved to San Diego to live with his son and died there on Aug. 3, 1949. The subjects of his watercolors, oils, lithographs, and etchings include horses, figures, landscapes of Ohio, San Diego, and from his world travels. Exh: Royal Academy (Munich) 1902 (silver medal); Armory Show (NYC), 1913; Carnegie Inst., 1914-44; AIC, 1929 (prize); Calif. WC Society, 1940; Cleveland Museum, 1950 (memorial). In: Library of Congress; Whitney Museum (NYC); MM; Cleveland Museum; Boston Museum.

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
American Art Annual 1903-33; American Magazine of Art, Sept. 1936; Who's Who in American Art 1936-47.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  Henry Keller

Born:  1869 - at sea, off Nova Scotia
Died:   1949 - San Diego, California
Known for:  landscape, figure, animal-circus painting, etching, teaching

Essays referring to
Henry Keller

New York Armory Show of 1913