- Catholic College Art Professor, foremost expert on artist William Keith. John Muir introduced Keith's art to Brother Cornelius in 1908.
- Founder of St. Mary's College Hearst Art Gallery
- Cornelius worked for nearly 20 years on his benchmark book Keith, Old Master of
- 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.
In preparation for his books, he relived Keith's life, following his
footsteps in Europe and America, even to the Mackenzie 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
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 by Steve Pauly in
collaboration with the John Muir Memorial Association, explored the
influence of John Muir on Keith's paintings.
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