Born in 1862, Charles Reiffel is one of the most well known American Plein air-artists who ever lived. What’s interesting is that he didn’t originally start out as an artist, he was a lithographer before turning to painting while he was in his 30’s, and he didn’t look back.
Reiffel’s art can’t be described just as Impressionism because, he came onto the art scene when Impressionism was winding down in Europe. His work can be best described as “Modern Art” because, being a self taught artist, he wasn’t afraid to try different things and his work eventually won over most art critics in the United States.
Sadly, Charles Reiffel’s name isn’t a “household” name in the art world in the 21st Century because instead of staying on the East Coast during the early 20th Century, he relocated to the San Diego area. Back then, San Diego was literally a world apart from New York so there’s no doubt that an artist really had to fight to survive on the West Coast especially during the 1930’s.
Thankfully, Reiffel benefitted from the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s and he was able to support himself and his wife as they grew older while he continued painting.
My Connection To Charles Reiffel
By the 1920’s, Reiffel and his wife had settled in the San Diego area because at the time it was still largely undeveloped and an artist could literally choose a different landscape every day because in San Diego you’re just a short drive away from the mountains, desert, ocean, city or marina.
Back in the 1920’s, San Diego was still largely undeveloped and Reiffel was able to paint plenty of wonderful plein air paintings of landscapes that have sadly become developed with homes or stripmalls in the 21st Century.
It was in the 1930’s that he met my Grandparents, Ruth and Carl Hyatt.
Carl was an artist in his own right who supported his family with his sign painting business while Ruth was a homemaker whose family owned Clingman Dairy in the San Diego area. They both met at Ruth’s job working as a soda jerk at a local drug store and married shortly after.
The 1930’s was tough for everyone and Carl worked multiple jobs to support his family, on one of his sign painting jobs he met Charles Reiffel and proceeded to develop a friendship with the artist that led my grandparents to help the artist set up his canvases at local art shows.
To show his gratitude to my grandparents, Reiffel gave them two of his landscape paintings and those paintings hung in my grandparents home for the next 50 years as treasures from their past.
Growing up, I relished every opportunity to explore my grandparents home because along with the works by Reiffel they had a Picasso hanging over their bed (which I learned was a copy) and many other paintings, rare collectables and other interesting things that were examples of a life well lived.
Thankfully, Reiffel’s work is now starting to gain more recognition in the artworld thanks to recent art retrospectives in the San Diego area and judging by the variety of websites that have popped up in recent years which claim to pay top dollar for his artwork it’s easy to see that his work has gained in value as well.
My hope is that more books or movies will be produced about the life of Charles Reiffel in the coming years because, like Van Gogh, Cezanne and other well-known artists before him, his life was fascinating and deserves to be documented more for future generations.