Born in, Scotland, Keith and his family immigrated to New York in 1851. In 1859, Keith settled in San Francisco, where he worked as an engraver and illustrator before taking up painting. During an 1872 trip to the Yosemite Valley, Keith met the preservationist John Muir (1838-1914). An exact contemporary and fellow Scotsman, Keith enjoyed a close friendship with Muir for the next forty years. Keith and Muir frequently traveled together, sharing a love of California’s wilderness, particularly the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Whereas Muir—who founded the Sierra Club in 1892—extolled the mountains’ majesty in word, Keith devoted himself to capturing their scenic beauty on canvas.
Here Keith depicts a dramatic storm in the Sierras. Muir’s 1894 book The Mountains of California includes a chapter on “Sierra Thunder-Storms,” in which he describes such a scene. Muir writes, “A range of bossy cumuli took possession of the sky, huge domes and peaks rising one beyond another with deep canons between them, bending this way and that in long curves and reaches, interrupted here and there with white upboiling masses that looked like the spray of waterfalls. Zigzag lances of lightning followed each other in quick succession, and the thunder was so gloriously loud and massive it seemed as if surely an entire mountain was being shattered at every stroke.”