The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler

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John Ross Key, 1837-1920

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1837.07.16
Place of Birth: Hagerstown, Maryland
Date of Death: 1920
Place of Death: Baltimore


John Ross Key was a landscape painter. He was the grandson of Francis Scott Key, the author of the patriotic song, Star Spangled Banner.


Key was JW's colleague in the Drawing Department at the United States Coast Survey Office in Washington DC. He came to own one of JW's first etching plates from this period, having been given the plate to practice on himself.

Key went on to study art in Munich and Paris. He established a studio in Boston where he was a successful artist, showing his works at the National Academy of Design, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Boston Athenaeum and Boston Art Club. His works were described as 'firm and masterly, strong and graceful.' He was a member of the Boston Art Club and the Society of Washington Artists.

During the American Civil War Key served with the Federal Corp of Engineers in Charleston, South Carolina and recorded the siege of the Confederate city in 1863 and the Bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1865. After the war he lived in North Carolina. From 1869 to 1871 he was based in San Francisco, but travelled extensively. He painting the Sierra Nevadas, Golden Gate Bridge, Presidential Range, Mount Kersarge, Point Lobos, Yosemite, Carmel and Lake Tahoe. Many of his paintings were made into chromolithographs by Louis Prang in the 1870s. He won a medal at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.

Bibliography: (accessed 11 March 2004); (accessed 11 March 2004).