John Ross Key (American 1837-1920)
John Ross Key was the grandson of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner. He was born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1832, and raised in Washington, D.C. Key was a draftsman with the United States Coast Survey from 1853 to 1856, serving with Gilbert Munger (1837-1903) and James Abbot McNeill Whistler (1834-1903).
He served with the Federal Corp of Engineers in Charleston, South Carolina, and made an artistic record of the Federal siege of that Confederate city in 1863. Immediately after the war Key worked in New York City (1866), and then in Baltimore (1867-1868) and later Boston (1878). In the late 1860s and early 1870s Key was in Northern California. In 1869 he moved to San Francisco.
While in California, Key traveled extensively, painting scenes of Yosemite, Carmel, Lake Tahoe, and the Giant Sequoia trees. He resided in San Francisco and painted many landscapes including popular subjects in the Sierra Nevadas, as well as the Golden Gate and Point Lobos.
Key studied art in Munich and Paris from 1873 to 1875. He worked in a number of American cities including Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and Baltimore before settling in Boston where he established an art studio. In Boston he showed over 100 works of art in 1877. Critics praised his work as "firm and masterly, strong and graceful."
Louis Prang, the Boston lithographer, sent Key to California to paint a series of landscape. Key painted in California from 1871-1872 and is mentioned in the art notes of Scribners Magazine. Subjects painted by Key are listed in Prangs catalogue of 1878, and include The Golden Gate (after a painting that won a Gold Medal at Philadelphias Centennial Exposition in 1876). Prang made many of his paintings into chromolithographs in the 1870s. In addition to his oil paintings, he was noted for exceptional charcoal drawings.
From 1908 to 1917, Key settled in Washington, D.C., then moved to Baltimore for his remaining years. John Ross Key died in Baltimore in 1920. Key exhibited at the National Academy of Design (1866-1879); The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; The Boston Athenaeum; Mechanics Institute, San Francisco; The Boston Art Club (1875-1878); Corcoran Gallery (1908); and Society of Independent Artists (1917). He was a member of the Society of Washington Artists and the Boston Art Club.
Peter Hastings Falk, Who Was Who in American Art