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

Figurative Watercolor and Ink on Paper Painting:

Woman with Striped Stockings, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Landscape Oil on Board Painting:

Brandywine Landscape, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Figurative Oil on Board Painting:

Solitude, ca. 1920 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

A Monument to Bondage William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Adam & Eve William Sommer

Animal Landscape Oil on Beaver Board Painting:

Horse and Covered Cart in Town, 1921 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Young Artist William Sommer

Figurative Gouache on Paper Painting:

Interior with Boy, c. 1930 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Drawing:

The Band William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Nude with Umbrella & Figures, 1934 William Sommer

Landscape Oil on Masonite Painting:

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

Landscape Animal Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Brandywine Landscape With Goats, 1943 William Sommer

Green Apples by William Sommer

Green Apples, 1943 William Sommer

Landscape Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Purple Barn, Brandywine, 1944 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor and Ink on Paper Drawing:

Seated Child, Tess, ca. 1915 William Sommer

Figurative Pencil and Watercolor on Paper Drawing:

Seated Nude, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor and Ink on Paper Drawing:

The Plaid Jacket, c. 1928 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Mazda Study, ca. 1930 William Sommer

Boy Eating an Apple by William Sommer

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Boy Eating an Apple William Sommer

Interior Scene with Man Reading by William Sommer

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Interior Scene with Man Reading, 1898 William Sommer

Study for ‘Houses and Pink Clouds’, Lakewood by William Sommer

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

Houses and Pink Clouds, Lakewood by William Sommer

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Houses and Pink Clouds, Lakewood, ca 1912 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

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Seated Female William Sommer

Adam and Eve by William Sommer

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Adam and Eve, c. 1915 William Sommer

Two Heads by William Sommer

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Two Heads William Sommer

Plowing by William Sommer

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Plowing, c. 1920 William Sommer

Brandywine Country by William Sommer

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Brandywine Country, ca. 1920 William Sommer

Landscape Watercolor on Paper Painting:

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Winter, Brandywine William Sommer

Figures by William Sommer

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Figures William Sommer

Lakewood Houses by William Sommer

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Lakewood Houses William Sommer

Cubist Houses by William Sommer

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Cubist Houses, ca. 1923-24 William Sommer

Animal Landscape Watercolor on Paper Painting:

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Cow in Landscape, 1925 William Sommer

Landscape Watercolor and Ink on Paper Painting:

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Summer Day, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Portrait of Mrs. Sommer by William Sommer

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Portrait of Mrs. Sommer, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Figurative Oil on Wood Panel Painting:

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Portrait of a Woman, ca. 1925 William Sommer

Brandywine Landscape by William Sommer

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Brandywine Landscape, 1935 William Sommer

William Sommer - Horse and Rider by William Sommer

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

Horse in a Field by William Sommer

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Horse in a Field William Sommer

Landscape Watercolor on Paper Painting:

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Brandywine Landscape with Goats and Chickens, 1943 William Sommer

Portrait of a Woman by William Sommer

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Portrait of a Woman, c.1920 William Sommer

Study for ‘Horse and Covered Cart in Town’ by William Sommer

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

Sketches of Cows by William Sommer

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Sketches of Cows William Sommer

Sketches of Horses by William Sommer

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Sketches of Horses William Sommer