William Sommer (1867-1949), a first-generation Detroit native, showed his artistic skills at an early age. But pursuing a fine art career was out of the question for someone whose immigrant parents were struggling to build a life and had little means. Consequently, Sommer left school at the age of fourteen to learn commercial lithography. After completing an apprenticeship in 1888, he worked on the East Coast and in England, all the while harboring a desire to create fine art. In February 1890 a generous friend took Sommer to Munich, where he studied painting through March 1891. During his year in Munich he obtained a solid education in traditional fine arts.
Upon his return, Sommer resumed his career in lithography. Settling in New York, he married, had three sons, ventured into the fine arts community to socialize with other artists, and produced earthen-hued portraits. In 1907 he joined the Otis Lithograph Company in Cleveland, where he met William Zorach, Abel Warshawsky, and other innovative artists and was introduced to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. A quick learner, he mastered each one in turn, and then progressed through several phases of modern art in just a few years.
In 1914 Sommer moved to a country home between Cleveland and Akron. This shift from a crowded urban setting to a hilly, wooded, four-acre lot energized the artist, spurring him to new levels of creativity. In an abandoned schoolhouse-turned-studio, he started experimenting more, adding watercolor to his repertoire and finding new inspiration in music and literature. The influence of Vorticism—a British variant of Cubism—was discernible by the early 1920s in Sommer’s use of more angular, denser forms. His subjects, however, came directly from his rustic surroundings: landscapes, livestock, neighborhood children, and still lifes.
This work, Bach Chord (1923) is part of the collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of Russell Munn in Memory of Helen G. Munn. It is displayed as part of #CelebrateOhioArts 2017.