County Paintings to be Part of San Diego Museum of Art Exhibit

Two paintings that have graced the walls of the County Administration Center since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president will soon become part of a special exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art.

“Charles Reiffel: An American Post-Impressionist,” is an exhibition that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of a painter who museum officials said has been called “the American Van Gogh.” It is scheduled to be held jointly by the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego History Center from Nov. 10, 2012 through Feb. 10, 2013.

Reiffel, a self-taught artist who lived in San Diego from about 1925 until he passed away in 1942, was one of several artists commissioned by Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Project Administration to create art for the County Administration Center when it was being built in the late 1930s.

County supervisors voted unanimously this week to loan two of the many Reiffel oil paintings housed at County Administration Center — “Moonlight by the Sea” and “In the Street” — to be part of the exhibit.

Museum officials said the exhibition will be the first major retrospective of Reiffel’s work since his death in 1942 and would feature more than 90 pieces of his work, ranging from oil paintings to watercolors and drawings in pencil and children’s crayons.

Ariel Plotek, curator of the upcoming exhibition, said that Reiffel is considered a founding father of the California landscape school and a “post-impressionist” painter of national stature — referring to impressionism, the late 19th Century French school of art comprised of artists including Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

In 2009, the Smithsonian American Art Museum held an exhibition entitled, “1934: A New Deal for Artists.” That exhibit stated that artists, like all Americans, struggled during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Roosevelt, the exhibit stated, recognized that Americans not only needed jobs, but also art that could inspire them. Because of that, Roosevelt’s New Deal economic reform programs hired thousands of artists to create public art from 1934-41.

Reiffel was part of what is called the “Plein Air” style of painters, those painters who were inspired by nature and light and chose to paint outdoors “in plain air.”

In 2004, the County Administration Center’s historic art collection was meticulously restored and reframed, funded by the County Treasure/Tax Collector and community enhancement funds from current Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Ron Roberts.

For more information about the exhibition, please go to the San Diego Museum of Art’s website.

For more information about the County Administration Center’s historic art collection, please visit the Clerk of the Board’s website.

Below: Charles Reiffel’s “In the Street”


Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact