Heavy Sea
17-1/4'' x 27-3/4''
Keller, Henry George

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