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 Gouache on Paper Painting:

Interior with Boy, c. 1910 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor and Ink on Paper Painting:

Woman with Striped Stockings, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

A Monument to Bondage William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Adam & Eve William Sommer

Green Eyed Girl (Portrait of Tess Dominski) by William Sommer

Green Eyed Girl (Portrait of Tess Dominski), c. 1924 William Sommer

Tiger Boy by William Sommer

Tiger Boy, c. 1925 William Sommer

Harmony in Brown by William Sommer

Harmony in Brown, c. 1925 William Sommer

George in Yellow Jacket by William Sommer

George in Yellow Jacket, 1926 William Sommer

Shy June by William Sommer

Shy June, c. 1927 William Sommer

Portrait of June by William Sommer

Portrait of June, 1928 William Sommer

The Plaid Jacket by William Sommer

The Plaid Jacket, c. 1929 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Drawing:

The Band William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Young Artist, c. 1930 William Sommer

The Crane Fountain by William Sommer

The Crane Fountain William Sommer

It's Me (Portrait of Robert Kulesa) by William Sommer

It's Me (Portrait of Robert Kulesa), c. 1930 William Sommer

Seated Boy by William Sommer

Seated Boy, c. 1930 William Sommer

Young Worker by William Sommer

Young Worker, c. 1930 William Sommer

Boy in Blue Overalls by William Sommer

Boy in Blue Overalls, c. 1930 William Sommer

Frankie in Yellow (Portrait of Frankie Dominski) by William Sommer

Frankie in Yellow (Portrait of Frankie Dominski), c. 1930 William Sommer

Small Boy with Apples by William Sommer

Small Boy with Apples, c. 1930 William Sommer

Boy Rocking by William Sommer

Boy Rocking, 1930 William Sommer

Sunday Boy by William Sommer

Sunday Boy, 1932 William Sommer

Marvin Holding Pencil by William Sommer

Marvin Holding Pencil, c. 1932 William Sommer

Seated Boy in White Shirt by William Sommer

Seated Boy in White Shirt, c. 1933 William Sommer

Calculation in Blue and Brown (Portrait of Arthur Timm) by William Sommer

Calculation in Blue and Brown (Portrait of Arthur Timm), 1933 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor on Paper Painting:

Nude with Umbrella & Figures, 1934 William Sommer

The Blue Shirt by William Sommer

The Blue Shirt, c. 1934 William Sommer

Boy with Striped Necktie by William Sommer

Boy with Striped Necktie, 1935 William Sommer

Famous Boy by William Sommer

Famous Boy, c. 1935 William Sommer

High Stockings by William Sommer

High Stockings, c. 1935 William Sommer

Resolute Boy by William Sommer

Resolute Boy, c. 1935 William Sommer

Tired Feet (Portrait of Tess Dominski) by William Sommer

Tired Feet (Portrait of Tess Dominski), c. 1935 William Sommer

Little Girl by William Sommer

Little Girl, c. 1935 William Sommer

Nonchalant Boy by William Sommer

Nonchalant Boy, c. 1935 William Sommer

Young Girl #2 (Portrait of Tess Dominski) by William Sommer

Young Girl #2 (Portrait of Tess Dominski), c. 1935 William Sommer

Seated Boy by William Sommer

Seated Boy, c. 1935 William Sommer

Boy in Yellow Sweater by William Sommer

Boy in Yellow Sweater, c. 1935 William Sommer

Portrait of a Young Boy by William Sommer

Portrait of a Young Boy, c. 1935 William Sommer

The Little Artist by William Sommer

The Little Artist, c. 1936 William Sommer

The Blue Overcoat (Portrait of Joe Cicora) by William Sommer

The Blue Overcoat (Portrait of Joe Cicora), c. 1937 William Sommer

The Blue Shirt by William Sommer

The Blue Shirt, c. 1938 William Sommer

Technicolor Girl by William Sommer

Technicolor Girl, c. 1938 William Sommer

Important Message by William Sommer

Important Message, c. 1939 William Sommer

Reservations by William Sommer

Reservations, c. 1940 William Sommer

Shirtless Boy Reading by William Sommer

Shirtless Boy Reading, c. 1940 William Sommer

Young Boy Seated at Table by William Sommer

Young Boy Seated at Table, 1940 William Sommer

Musing Girl by William Sommer

Musing Girl, c. 1940 William Sommer

Girl in a Red Fez by William Sommer

Girl in a Red Fez, c. 1941 William Sommer

Girl in Green Coat by William Sommer

Girl in Green Coat, 1941 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

Figurative Pencil and Watercolor on Paper Drawing:

Seated Nude, ca. 1918 William Sommer

Figurative Watercolor and Ink on Paper Drawing:

Seated Child (Portrait of Tess Dominski), c. 1926 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

Cart with Horse and Rider by William Sommer

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Cart with Horse and Rider William Sommer

Horses at Moonlight by William Sommer

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Horses at Moonlight William Sommer

Adam and Eve at Sunset by William Sommer

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Adam and Eve at Sunset William Sommer

Portrait by William Sommer

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Portrait, 1910 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

Landscape Oil on Board Painting:

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Brandywine Landscape, ca. 1918 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

Animal Landscape Oil on Beaver Board Painting:

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Horse and Covered Cart in Town, 1921 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

Landscape Oil on Masonite Painting:

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Houses by the Roadside, Brandywine, ca. 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

Landscape Watercolor on Paper Painting:

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Purple Barn, Brandywine, 1944 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