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   The San Diego Museum of Art Artists Guild

Charles Reiffel

Charles Reiffel's "Road in the Cuyamacas" (1934) depicts the spectacular scenery that persuaded him to make an unplanned move from Connecticut to San Diego in 1925.  His  journey as an artist was a long and rocky one. "He was 56 years old when recognition of his painting...invitations...and collectors...convinced him he could devote all his energies to his painting." 1

And, paint he did!  Known today as the Dean of Plein-Air Painters, he inspired generations of artists.

The Journey 

On the left we see Charles Reiffel as a young man. Photo 2

On the right is Reiffel as he may have looked when he served as President of the Artists Guild in 1928 & 1929. Photo 3

Road in the Cuyamacas, 1934 Photo 1

A closer look at Road in the Cuyamacas reveals a narrow, winding path enticing the viewer into the rocky wilderness in Southern California's Cuyamaca Mountains.  Above the rugged peaks, clouds gather in formations that repeat those in the rocks below. Golden light streams down between the clouds, picking out a boulder here and a treetop there. Reiffel used bright dabs of red, orange and blue paint to suggest sunlight sparkling on rain-wet stones and pine needles.2

Point Loma, 1937, WPA mural in the Casa de Balboa Photo 4

He was considered "too modern" for many of his critics. Often broke as a young man, Reiffel worked as a lithographer while he pursued his vision as a painter.  Paintings he completed for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) are now in the Smithsonian American Museum of Art. His work is included in major museums and collections across the country.3

Dean of Plein-Air Painters

Viewing just a few of Reiffel's plein-air paintings shows you how masterfully he captured the moment in his work.  You are right there with him, feeling the breeze in the air.

Summer Session at Ballast Point, San Diego, (1930)  Photo 5

The San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego History Center

Charles Reiffel: An American Post-Impressionist, November 8, 2012  -  February 10,  2013, will be presented concurrently at The San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego History Center.  

While Charles Reiffel is usually considered today as a leader of the California plein-air school of painting, this exhibition will celebrate his legacy as a preeminent practitioner of Post-Impressionism in America.  Over 80 works will span his lifetime of paintings and works on paper.  Dr. Ariel Plotek, Assistant Curator at The San Diego Museum of Art and the Curator of the Reiffel exhibit, will open our eyes to see Reiffel in a new light, as the American Van Gogh.4

Please contact history@sdmaag.org if you are interested in contributing to our search for the Guild's past by becoming part of the History committee, or by donating memorabilia you may have from your years in the Artists Guild.

Jody Abssy


Photo Credits: 

Photo 1 Road in the Cuyamacas; Smithsonian American Art Museum
Photo 2 Charles Reiffel;www.lajollaart.org
Photo 3 Charles Reiffel; www.sandiegohistory.org

Photo 4  Point Loma; Digital Projects at SDSU Library
Photo 5 Summer Session at Ballast Point, San Diego (1930)


1. Hazel B. Braun, San Diego Tribune, March 21, 1942
2. Smithsonian American Art Museum online text for Road in the Cuyamacas
3. Martin E. Petersen Success at Mid-Life: Charles Reiffel (1862-1942) San Diego Artist, San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, Winter 1985

4. www.sdmart.org/art/exhibit/charles-reiffel

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