Editor's note: The Oceanside Museum of Art provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Oceanside Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


William Alexander Griffith (1866-1940): Plein Air Painter


Southern California has a rich legacy of early twentieth century artists who painted en plein air, the myriad landscapes of sea, canyons, mountains and deserts. Oceanside Museum of Art focuses on one of these, William A. Griffith.

Griffith, born in Laawrence, Kansas, traveled to Europe with his friends Benjamin Chambers Brown and Edmund H. Wuerpel (Wuerpel was later on Director of the St. Louis School of Fine Arts) in 1890. He enrolled in the Académie Julian while in Paris and studied there for two years. He joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in 1899 as a professor after two earlier teaching positions.

Griffith came in 1918 to San Diego for what was to be only a sabbatical year. He became so enamored of the painting possibilities of this beautiful state that he left his twenty-one year position as head of the Art Department at the University of Kansas and brought his wife and five children to California in order to become a full-time painter. He settled in Laguna Beach and became a charter member of the Laguna Beach Art Association along with fellow painters and neighbors, Edgar and Elsie Payne, William Wendt, Anna Althea Hills and Frank Cuprien. The historical importance of these painters has inspired many exhibitions throughout the country.

left to right: San Jacinto, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of George and Mille Griffith; Laguna Canyon, 1928, oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches, Collection of George and Katherine Griffith; The Studio, 1925, oil on canvas, 7 x 9 inches, Collection of Wilson and Marcia Burrows; California Coastal Scene, 1928, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of Marcel Vinh and Dan Hansman.

Griffith was president of the Laguna Beach Art Association from 1920-21 and 1925-27. He helped in fund raising efforts to build the permanent gallery on Cliff Drive, predecessor of the Laguna Art Museum.

The paintings in this exhibition reflect Griffith's thought that there is a spiritual dimension to art and that a painting should inspire joy, order and tranquility. OMA is fortunate to have these definitive works on loan from several museums in Southern California and from individual collectors in five states.

left to right: Santa Ana Canyon, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, Collection of George and Mille Griffith; Diver's Cove, c. 1925, pastel, Collection of Katherine and Julian Donahue; Santa Ana Canyon, Santa Ana Canyon, 1928, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, Collection of Wilson and Marcia Burrows.

revised 11/29/99

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Oceanside Museum of Art in Resource Library.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/1/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.