Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor
Plein Air Painters of California: The Southland. By Ruth Westphal. Irvine, California: Westphal Publishing, 1982. Illustrations. 220 pages. $75.00.
Reviewed by Bruce Kamerling, Curator of Collections for the San Diego Historical Society.
The rapidly growing interest in California’s early regional art has produced a surprising number of publications in recent years. This volume is certainly one of the finest and should provide a standard with which future works in the field may be compared. It is well organized and clearly written as well as being handsomely presented. It has the added attraction of being a history and a concise reference work, therefore having appeal to both historians and collectors.
Covering the period from about 1890 to 1940, the book approaches its topic from several angles. After an introduction by the author, two essays on Southern California painting as it relates to Impressionism are presented by Nancy Moure and Jean Stern. These two have done much to promote interest in California art, Nancy Moure as Assistant Curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and Jean Stern as Director of the Petersen Galleries in Beverly Hills. This section, called “Two Viewpoints,” is very thought provoking and although one may or may not agree with the two viewpoints, they do help to place Southern California art in a broader context and give valuable insight into the complex sources of what are often derogatorily labeled “Eucalyptus School” paintings.
The next three sections of the book are divided geographically with individual biographies of thirty artists who worked in Los Angeles, Laguna Beach and San Diego. Each of these sections is prefaced with a brief historical account of the early art development of the region. Next follow alphabetically arranged biographies which include a photograph or portrait of the artist, a quick reference list of basic biographical data, an account of the artist’s life, and several paintings reproduced in color or black and white.
Perhaps of the greatest interest to local readers is the coverage of the San Diego art scene. Largely neglected in previous works on California artists, the major painters of Silvergate are here admirably presented. Martin Petersen, Curator of the San Diego Museum of Art, contributes a brief history of the major artists and art organizations of San Diego. To this he adds more detailed biographical sketches on Maurice Braun, Charles Fries, Alfred Mitchell and Charles Reiffel. Braun and Fries have already received more than local attention, but the achievements of Mitchell and Reiffel have gone largely unrecognized. Certainly this handsome volume will help remedy that situation.
Plein Air Painters is that rarity in the field of topical art books, being concise yet informative, carefully organized and beautifully illustrated. The numerous color plates are of the highest quality and should do much to bring these talented painters to the attention of a broader range of historians, collectors and connoisseurs. In the introduction, the author expresses her intention to produce similar volumes covering more of California’s regional artists. If this first book is any indication, we can look forward to future volumes with pleasure.