Sept 4: Charles Reiffel: The Fate of a Silvermine Painter who Chose Art Over Fame

"Building a Dam, Silvermine, CT" Charles Reiffel

Building a Dam, Silvermine, CT, Oil, 31″x 37″

(By Bob Mueller, SCNY Curator)

Over the past several years exhibitions such as American Masters have introduced many western artists to Salmagundi, a good number of whom have become part of our artistic fellowship. Not many people realize though, that Salmagundi artists helped to establish the western art tradition during the late-ninteenth and early twentieth centuries. These artists began their careers in the east, making seasonal sojourns out west before finally settling there. The connection between Salmagundi and its influence on some of the the western art colonies is still little understood and demands greater exploration.

For instance, all of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists — Oscar Berninghaus, Ernest Blumenschein, E. Irving Couse, William H. Dunton, Bert Phillips and Joseph H. Sharp, as well as E. Martin Hennings, Julius Rolshoven and Walter Ufer were Salmagundians. Also to be considered are artists such as Thomas Moran (our fourth president), Carl Rungius, W. R. Leigh and Sydney M. Lawrence who travelled more widely.

A great many of the major California painters were also Club members including such names as Edgar Payne, William Ritschel, Alson S. Clark, Guy Rose, Jack Wilkinson Smith, George Gardner Symons, Maurice Braun, Carl Oscar Borg, Colin Campbell Cooper, Armin Hansen, Charles Rollo Peters and Maynard Dixon. Included in this last group is the artist Charles Reiffel.

Early last year I had some communications regarding Charles Reiffel, a Club member from 1919-c.1927, with Keith Colestock, the primary historian on the artist. He was conducting research to assist the curators of a major retrospective of the artist which was held at the San Diego Museum of Art and ran from November 2012-February 2013. The art critic for the L.A. Times after visiting the exhibition, wrote a very flattering review in which he called Reiffel “the best early American modernist that nobody has heard of”.

Before leaving for California in 1925, Charles Reiffel had established a strong reputation on the east coast, becoming one of the founders and President of the Silvermine Guild of Artists in New Canaan, CT. His rise to success here and subsequent decline to poverty and anonymity on the west coast is a story worth telling. Yet through it all he remained true to himself as an artist. The fact that he has risen like a phoenix to become a highly collected California artist, with a sales record just shy of $400,000 attests to the enduring quality of his output.


On Saturday, September 28, 2013, the curator of the exhibition, Bram Dijkstra, professor emeritus of American and Comparative Literature at the University of California, San Diego, will be giving a talk on Charles Reiffel at the New Canaan Historical Society from 4:00-6:00 pm. The Society is located at 13 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan, CT 06840 (

While at the Historical Society, visitors may also explore the Rogers Studio and Museum where sculptor John Rogers (1829-1904) worked in his later years when the Salmagundi Club occupied his home at 14 West 12th Street.

If you are interested in attending this lecture please email before Sept 10th to reserve. Tickets are $15 and seating is limited, hence the early deadline. Regular scheduled train service to and from New Canaan is available via Metro North from Grand Central Terminal.


One comment on “Sept 4: Charles Reiffel: The Fate of a Silvermine Painter who Chose Art Over Fame

  1. Teresa White says:

    You will be happy to know that I recently purchased the Charles Reiffel painting in your 1st photo, “Building a Dam”. It now has a home in San Diego, CA and is well appreciated.

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