Virgil Williams Biography

Born in Dixfield, Maine Virgil M. Williams was a painter and teacher.  Director and instructor of the California School of Design in San Francisco in the late 19th century, from its opening in 1874 until his death twelve years later. In his position, he influenced succeeding generations of painters that made San Francisco one of the art capitals of the western world.  Among his followers were William Keith, Thomas Hill and Samuel Marsden Brookes.

Williams was also highly regarded as a portrait and landscape painter, creating scenes of Europe that hearkened back to an earlier time and occasionally painting California landscapes from trips into Yosemite and the Sierra Nevadas. Albert Bierstadt was a sketching companion.

Virgil Williams studied at Brown University before beginning his art training with Daniel Huntington in New York City. From 1853-60, he studied in Rome with William Page, a New York painter, and married his daughter, Mary.

Upon returning to the U.S., he had a studio in Boston and in 1862  he was commissioned to come to San Francisco to design and install an art gallery at the Woodward’s Gardens. After returning to Boston in 1866, Williams taught drawing at Harvard University and the Boston School of Technology.  He divorced Mary Page about 1870 and returned to San Francisco in 1871 with his new wife, Dora Norton, one of his students who specialized in watercolor flower painting.

He was a co-founder of the Bohemian Club.