May 27, 2009



c. 1917

William Sommer

(American, 1867–1949)

Watercolor and black crayon

Support: Cream(1) wove paper

Sheet: 30.3 x 23.9 cm (11 15/16 x 9 7/16 in.)

John L. Severance Fund 2000.73



Sommer was a prolific watercolorist and produced some of his finest works in the medium. This rare, early self-portrait embodies the style of forceful line and color he began using around 1912 under the influence of the German Expressionists. The intense self-analysis and projection of personality may also reflect his fascination with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, especially its exaltation of the artist as an oracle of revolutionary ideas. The sitter’s intense gaze also hints at his rebellious personality. A co-worker at the lithography shop where Sommer earned his living recalled, “I remember how fed up he got working day and night at the shop, how depressed he was and how desperate to get some painting done on Sundays— and holiday.” Another co-worker commented, “Bill hated to go back to his job. He reminded us constantly that he was being crucified at the lithography plant.”

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