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Charles Reiffel
a san diego artist
Charles Reiffel

Born: Indianapolis, Indiana
Studied: Munich Academy, Germany
Charles Reiffel Biography

Charles Reiffel was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 6, 1862. As a seventeen-year-old, he entered the work world where he eventually found employment at Stowbridge Lithography in Cinncinati, Ohio, drawing other people's designs on the stones for theatrical posters. Charles Reiffel would practice this medium for the greater part of his life. Later, while working as a lithographer, Reiffel became acquainted with Henry G. Keller, a noted mid-American artist, and, still later, locating in New York -- lured to this mecca of most inspiring poets, musicians, and artists during the last half of the nineteenth century -- Reiffel met another future San Diego painter, Charles A. Fries, in the printer's shop. The two were to become close friends.

During a nine-month vacation traveling through Europe and North Africa, Charles Reiffel made hundreds of pencil and oil sketches. Charles also studied briefly with Milwaukee-born Carl Marr at the Munich Academy, where he received his only formal training. During the 1860s and 1870s Germany attracted many post-bellum American art students. The Munich school avoided the hard colors, the dominant outline and the heroic themes preferred by the Dusseldorf School, also a popular training ground for aspiring novices. Munich artists sometimes sacrificed subject matter for dazzling brushwork and blended colors and stressed a unity of rich color and texture dealing with realistic themes, characteristics the viewer finds in the work of Charles Reiffel.

After nearly six years in Europe, Charles Reiffel returned to Buffalo, New York, where he continued in the lithography business. In Buffalo he was encouraged to submit some of his sketches produced abroad to an annual exhibition at the Albright Art Gallery. Six sketches the artist had done in Tangiers and Morocco were purchased by the director, Dr. Charles M. Kurtz, prior to the exhibition opening. The success and sale of his works provided impetus for Charles Reiffel to paint more regularly. In 1908, Reiffel painted his first large landscape, Moonlight on the Niagara and won the Buffalo Society of Artists' Fellowship Prize. Reiffel's second large work, Railway Yards -- Winter Evening, was purchased by the Corcoran Gallery from its biennial exhibition of American painting. This was the beginning of an impressive list of awards and honors bestowed upon the artist throughout his professional career.

In 1917, Charles Reiffel received the Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was the Institute's first "modern" annual. In 1918 and in the mid-1920s Honorable Mentions were conferred upon Reiffel by the Society of Artists of Buffalo, and in 1920 by the Connecticut Academy of Arts. From the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Charles Reiffel was awarded an Honorable Mention for Summer Design in 1922. The Daniel Rhodes Hanna, Jr. Prize in 1925, and the Thomas Meeker Butler Prize in 1926 were awarded Reiffel by the Hoosier Salon in Chicago. Charles was to win further awards from this source in 1927 and 1928. The William Preston Harrison Prize, offered by the Los Angeles Museum in 1926, was his for his entry in their exhibition of Southern California Artists. That same year Charles Reiffel was the recipient of the Art Guild Prize at the San Diego Museum of Art. The next year, 1927, Charles Reiffel won the P.F. O'Rourke $500 Purchase Prize in the Second Southern California Exposition at the San Diego Museum for his In San Felipe Valley, and his Summer Design received the Hatfield Gold Medal in Los Angeles. Later that year, the San Diego painter's Mountain Ranch, After the Rain captured the Mrs. Keith-Spalding Prize at the Los Angeles California Art Club. In the next decade Reiffel's success as an exhibitor continued when in 1931 he received a Gold Medal for one of his works in the exhibition, Painters of the West, in Los Angeles.
After seeing some of his works on view in New York, Robert Henri, the most respected artist of his generation, invited Charles Reiffel to exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of San Francisco in 1915. Henri had found something original and "modern" in his works heralding a freshness of vision of the American landscape. In 1925 Reiffel and his wife were planning a one-year visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Avoiding a storm, they followed a circuitous route that led them to San Diego, California. Here they were to remain until the artist's death on March 14, 1942. Charles Reiffel was to play an important role in the community's developing art and cultural scene. .

In 1929, the year Charles Reiffel became a member of the San Diego Museum of Art's Board of Trustees, he joined with eight other painters and sculptors to form the Contemporary Artists of San Diego.9 In addition to Charles Reiffel, members included James Tank Porter, Chairman; Alfred R. Mitchell, Secretary-Treasurer; Leon Bonnet; Maurice Braun; Charles A. Fries; Donal Hord; Everett Gee Jackson; and Elliot Torrey. This was the first serious San Diego professional artists' group. They exhibited together for six years until the death of Bonnet in 1936. During that first year they opened a downtown salesroom which, for economic reasons, was short-lived. They exhibited annually at the Museum with the exception of 1935, when San Diego hosted an international exposition. Their intention was to gain wider recognition for San Diego artists, but economic depression and internal differences caused the group to break up. However, the group is important because its members were the first area artists to seek trans-regional recognition.

In 1932 Charles Reiffel continued to exhibit in San Diego showcases including the San Diego Museum of Art, Orr's Gallery, and the Seventh Street Studio of the Contemporary Artists of San Diego. The San Diego Art Guild was only one of a long list of professional organizations to which Charles Reiffel belonged. Others included The Allied Artists of America, the American Federation of Arts, the Art Club of Washington, D.C., the Chicago Galleries Association, the Cinncinati Art Club, the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, the Indiana Federation of Artists, Internationale des Beaux Arts et des Lettres, the Laguna Beach Art Association, the New Canaan Art Club, the North Shore Art Association of Gloucester, and the Salmagundi Club.

In January 1935 Charles Reiffel, with San Diego painters Maurice Braun and Anni Baldaugh, exhibited in the First Annual Exhibition of the Academy of Western Painters in Los Angeles. They were included in a roster of distinguished American artists comprising the Academy. Among them were President Paul Lauritz, Carl Oscar Borg, Maynard Dixon, Nicolai Fechin, Armin Hansen, Frank Tenney Johnson, and William Wendt. Reiffel died in San Diego one month before his eightieth birthday, March 14, 1942

Charles Reiffel biographical information: misc sources and article by Martin Petersen, Curator of Paintings, San Diego Museum of Art. is interested in purchasing all oil paintings and watercolors by Charles Reiffel. If you have a painting by Charles Reiffel and are interested in selling it or simply wish to obtain an estimated value, please get in touch and we'll provide a free art evaluation.
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