William Sommer is seen as a key person in bringing European modernism to Northeast Ohio. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, and in his youth apprenticed for seven years to a lithographer. 

He briefly studied at an art academy in Germany and then worked as a lithographer in New York before moving to Cleveland, where he was awarded a major contract with the Otis Lithography Company. There he became friends with sculptor and painter William Zorach, and the two, determined to be fine artists, began painting together on weekends. They also became intrigued by avant-garde movements, especially after Zorach's trip to Paris in 1910.

In 1911, Sommer co-founded a group in Cleveland called the Kokoon Club, a mixed group of commercial artists and radical modernists who sought the freedom to pursue their independent tendencies. They converted a tailor's shop into a studio and held exhibitions and lectures and organized an annual masked ball that became the focus of Cleveland's bohemian life.

In 1913, he and his colleagues began painting at Brandywine, about 30 miles south of Cleveland and made a school house into a studio. They devoted increasing time to watercolor painting because they could work spontaneously and it would dry quickly. Rejecting the conventional ideas of beauty, they strove for the expression of emotion and spontaneity and fantasy. One of Sommer's most successful students was Charles Burchfield.

As he was perfecting his mature style, he had financial difficulties because he made his living from commercial lithography, which was becoming obsolete, and the Depression was hitting the nation causing him to lose his job. He became a WPA artist, doing murals in northeastern Ohio.

After his death at age 82, he was largely forgotten until 1980 when Hilton Kramer, a "New York Times" critic, praised his work. In May to July, 1994, the Ohio Arts Council held a retrospective of his work at the Riffe Gallery in Columbus. His work is found in many public collections including the National Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.


Works by William Sommer

Stone Masons

Stone Masons William Sommer

Seated Female

Seated Female William Sommer

Woman with Striped Stockings

Woman with Striped Stockings, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Brandywine Landscape

Brandywine Landscape, ca. 1918 William Sommer


Solitude, ca. 1920 William Sommer

Winter, Brandywine

Winter, Brandywine William Sommer

A Monument to Bondage

A Monument to Bondage William Sommer

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve William Sommer

Horse and Covered Cart in Town

Horse and Covered Cart in Town, 1921 William Sommer

Cow in Landscape

Cow in Landscape, 1925 William Sommer

Summer Day

Summer Day, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Young Artist

Young Artist William Sommer

Interior with Boy

Interior with Boy, c. 1930 William Sommer

The Band

The Band William Sommer

Nude with Umbrella & Figures

Nude with Umbrella & Figures, 1934 William Sommer

Houses by the Roadside, Brandywine

Houses by the Roadside, Brandywine, ca. 1940 William Sommer

Brandywine Landscape With Goats

Brandywine Landscape With Goats, 1943 William Sommer

Brandywine Landscape with Goats and Chickens

Brandywine Landscape with Goats and Chickens, 1943 William Sommer

Purple Barn, Brandywine

Purple Barn, Brandywine, 1944 William Sommer

Seated Child, Tess

Seated Child, Tess, ca. 1915 William Sommer

Seated Nude

Seated Nude, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Portrait of a Woman

Portrait of a Woman, c.1920 William Sommer

The Plaid Jacket

The Plaid Jacket, c. 1928 William Sommer

Mazda Study

Mazda Study, ca. 1930 William Sommer

Boy Eating an Apple


Boy Eating an Apple William Sommer

Interior Scene with Man Reading


Interior Scene with Man Reading, 1898 William Sommer

Study for ‘Houses and Pink Clouds’, Lakewood


Study for ‘Houses and Pink Clouds’, Lakewood, ca. 1912 William Sommer

Houses and Pink Clouds, Lakewood


Houses and Pink Clouds, Lakewood, ca 1912 William Sommer

Adam and Eve


Adam and Eve, c. 1915 William Sommer

Two Heads


Two Heads William Sommer



Plowing, c. 1920 William Sommer

Brandywine Country


Brandywine Country, ca. 1920 William Sommer



Figures William Sommer

Lakewood Houses


Lakewood Houses William Sommer

Cubist Houses


Cubist Houses, ca. 1923-24 William Sommer

Portrait of Mrs. Sommer


Portrait of Mrs. Sommer, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Brandywine Landscape


Brandywine Landscape, 1935 William Sommer

William Sommer - Horse and Rider


William Sommer - Horse and Rider, c.1940 William Sommer

Horse in a Field


Horse in a Field William Sommer

Study for ‘Horse and Covered Cart in Town’


Study for ‘Horse and Covered Cart in Town’, ca. 1918-19 William Sommer

Sketches of Cows


Sketches of Cows William Sommer

Sketches of Horses


Sketches of Horses William Sommer