My office seems empty now. Two extraordinary paintings, one a scene of San Diego by Alfred Mitchell, the other a 19th century view of Mission Valley by Frank Heath, have been removed, despite my weak protest, to the exhibition gallery. These views of San Diego have been part of my visual landscape for two years, but now they join their companions-fellow artists, fellow scenes-in Capturing the Light, Visions of the Land: San Diego Landscape Painters.
San Diego has been a magnet for artists since its earliest years-some painted and stayed, some painted and then moved on. The history of San Diego includes a prominent chapter on its role as home to a coterie of painters, many of whom had or went on to have national reputations. Artists, enticed by any number of San Diego’s beguiling qualities, began settling and working in the area during the early years of the 20th century. Foremost among this group were the plein air painters who painted out of doors, capturing our region’s landscape. Names of some of these artists may be well known: Charles Fries, Maurice Braun, Alfred Mitchell, Charles Reiffel; others may be lesser known such as Frank Heath, Alice Klauber, Rose Schneider, or Mary Belle Williams.
Extraordinarily popular with critics and public alike for over forty years, these artists fell out of public favor around mid-century when abstraction and modernism dominated. Out of the public eye and taste, the reputation of these artists and their work dimmed. During the 1970s and 1980s there was a renewal of interest in these artists. Southern California museums and galleries reevaluated these artists’ contributions and continue to explore the region’s relationship with them. Though collectors have long been enamored with these painters and their depictions, one goal of our exhibition is to reintroduce the public to these artists and their work.
The Society’s collection has been enriched recently with a new acquisition, Maurice Braun’s California Tower, a gift of the Thomas W. Sefton Trust. Painted in 1915, it is one of Braun’s most acclaimed paintings and a highlight of this exhibition. On behalf of the Board of Directors, I wish to thank the Sefton Trust for their gift.
I would also like to acknowledge and thank all of our lenders. These San Diego area residents, fervent in their appreciation of these beautiful, impressionistic works and the individuals who created them, have made their private collections available to the public.
Martin Petersen, Curator Emeritus of the San Diego Museum of Art, contributed generously of his time and talents advising the exhibition’s co-curators, Nicky Holland and Denny Stone, and contributing to this issue of the the Journal of San Diego History.
Our special thanks go to three individuals, relatives of the artists represented in this exhibit: Mary Sadler, a niece of Alfred Mitchell, Dr. Charlotte Braun White, daughter of Maurice Braun, and Alice Psaute, granddaughter of Charles Fries. All graciously aided the exhibition with their guidance, loans from family collections, and contributions to this publication.
The generosity of several area foundations has made Capturing the Light, Visions of the Land possible. The Heller Foundation contributed important financial support for the exhibition. Additional funding received from the Beth Paynter Fund of the San Diego Foundation and Charlotte Braun White made possible this augmented edition of the Journal of San Diego History. The generous support of the Billingsley Foundation helped us to conserve and preserve some of the works on display.