Born in Nuremberg, Germany, William Ritschel studied art at the Royal Academy in Munich and traveled extensively in Europe before coming to the United States in 1895 and settling in New York City. In 1905, he began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design and became a full academician in 1914. Although he kept a New York address, he moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 1911 and made his reputation painting scenes along the rocky coast. Enamored of the area, Ritschel built a castle-like home in the Carmel Highlands. His widely exhibited paintings of the turbulent Pacific helped bring national attention to the beauty of the Monterey Peninsula coast.
Ritschel’s paintings aim to capture the raw power and vitality of the Pacific against the area’s rocky shores. His was not the introspective depiction of the peninsula landscape favored by the area’s Tonalists, whose color, quiet nostalgia, and inward reflection prioritized mood over topography. Nor was he content with the general sense of calm, beauty, and order that characterized most Peninsula Impressionism. His work was active, changing, and dynamic. “He gives us no symphonies of soft tones, no tender moods of nature that invite the soul with their poetic harmonies,” critic Jessie Maude Wybro explained. “His is the full crash of Wagnerian orchestration.”(1)
Ritschel aimed to make his Monterey Peninsula paintings less regionally specific than his predecessors, who were aiming to promote a new symbol of national identity. For Ritschel, the rocky cliffs of the Carmel Highlands where he lived and the glorious vistas surrounding Point Lobos offered the most profound realization of the broad, age-old themes of nature, its contests, and man’s place within it, and he painted these locales until his death.
(1) Jessie Maude Wybro, “California in Exposition Art,” Overland Monthly 66 (December 1915): 517.