Students will gain an outsider’s perspective of California before it became a part of the Union.
Time Alloted2 - 3 Class Periods
State Content Standards
5.8.6 – Relate how and when California , Texas , Oregon , and other western lands became part of the United States , including the significance of the Texas War for Independence and the Mexican-American War.
Discuss how California became a state and its new government differed from those during the Mexican periods.
For the Teacher: Image on Digital Crocker (crockerartmuseum.org), 1847 Map of Mexico, a current map of California.
1. Begin by having the students look carefully at the image, The Fandango. This image is accessible on Digital Crocker at crockerartmuseum.org, on the Striking Gold CD ROM, and slides and overheads available for purchase through School Services.
2. Summarize About The Fandango to the students.
a. During the middle of the 19th century, many Americans thought it was their right to expand westward and spread their way of life to the Native American and Mexican inhabitants. The idea of expanding westward is called “Manifest Destiny.”
b. The Fandango is supposed to show life on a Rancho in California after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821 and before the Mexican-American War.
i. Ranchos were self-sufficient land holdings owned by wealthy Mexicans. Much of the work on Ranchos were done by Native Americans.
ii. Californios (Mexicans living in California) are enjoying a fiesta with laughter, dancing and music. In the center of the painting, a couple dances the Fandango.
iii. The Fandango is a type of dance that originated in Spain and is similar to the Flamenco.
c. Once California became the 31st State in the Union in 1850, there was a shift from self-sufficient Ranchos to a centralized government. This shift helped establish law and order in booming gold rush towns such as Sacramento and San Francisco.
d. California entered statehood as a non-slave state.
3. Lead an open class discussion with questions, and record all comments on the board.
a. After looking at the painting, do you think the artist wanted to tell the viewer about California and the Californios? Wild, uncivilized
b. Why were people moving west at this time? Manifest Destiny, gold.
c. Do you feel the painting truly portrays a way of life before California became a state of the Union? Or the painting is a product of the artist’s imagination of life before the Gold Rush?
d. Why do you think the artist portrayed the Californios in this way? It reinforced the morality behind expansion, it reinforced the idea of the west as wild and “primitive.”
e. Even though California was a non-slave state, were people still treated equally and fairly? No, Native Americans, Chinese.
4. Divide the class into groups of 4-5 students. Students will research what life was like on the Rancho before California became a part of the Union.
a. Have students search in books, magazines and on the Internet for examples of Ranchos.
i. Who owned the Rancho? Mexican Landowners
ii. Who worked on the Rancho? Native Americans
iii. What type of work took place on a Rancho?
iv. What other activities did people do on a Rancho?
b. Then, draw a poster of a Rancho. Label and briefly describe the different features.
Charles Christian Nahl (1818 – 1878)
Charles C. Nahl was born in Kassel , Germany , in 1818, into a family of accomplished artists. He studied art with his father and one of his cousins, and learned the medium of watercolor by age 12. He undertook further training at both the Kassel and Dresden Academies . The formal academies prioritized historical and religious scenes over other subjects and stressed the importance of draftsmanship and detail.
In 1846, Nahl moved to Stuttgart and then Paris with his mother, younger siblings, and an artist friend, Frederick August Wenderoth. While in Paris , he continued his studies. Because of the political and social unrest in Europe at this time, the Nahl party left France for the United States .
Nahl and his family remained in New York until 1851. Like so many others, they decided to seek their fortunes in California . They sailed from New York to Panama and then up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco . They reached San Francisco on May 23, 18 51. The family set out immediately for Rough and Ready where they were tricked into purchasing a “salted mine.” It was common for sellers to “salt mines” or sprinkle them with gold from another mine, to give the impression that it was rich w ith gold. With this disaster and bad health, Nahl decided to resume his artistic career. He, and his friend, Wenderoth, established a studio in Sacramento . They accepted commissions for portraits and commercial work, gaining a great following in their new community. After a devastating fire in Sacramento in November 1852, Nahl and Wenderoth moved to San Francisco where Nahl established a studio with his younger brother, Arthur.
Within a short time, Nahl was the most sought after illustrator working in the state. His drawings of 19th century California , which were produced as detailed wood engravings, appeared in newspapers, periodicals, books, broadsides and letter sheets. They were seen by audiences on the Pacific Coast , as well as readers and viewers in the eastern states and Europe .
Nahl's most popular work included illustrations for works written by Alonzo Delano. He produced images for Pen-Knife Sketches: or Chips of the Old Block (1853), The Miner's Progress (1854), The Idle and Industrious Miner (1854) and Old Block's Sketch Book: Or Tales of California Life (1856). By combining humor and morality with excellent draftsmanship, Nahl produced the quintessential image of California gold miner.
Nahl was a careful observer of nature, and produced beautiful imagery of fruits, flowers and other vegetation, but he paid less attention to landscape. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nahl was not drawn to such wonders as Yosemite . Nahl's images of mining life included accurate features of the Sierra foothills, but he usually emphasized figures over scenery.
Nahl is most remembered for his panoramic historical themes and early California scenes such as Miners in the Sierra of 1851-52 (in collaboration with Wenderoth) and Saturday Night in the Mines (1856). His reputation rests on signature works such as Sunday Morning in the Mines, The Fandango and Sunday Morning in Monterey , all produced in the 1870s. Although Nahl continued to produce illustrations throughout his lifetime, his enduring success came from his large-scale paintings. His paintings attracted patrons including Judge E.B. Crocker, Leland Stanford and James Flood.
By the time Nahl died in 1878, at the age of 59, his style of colorful, dramatic painting had passed from favor. It was not until the later part of the 20th century that his work was evaluated in new contexts and his reputation was re-established as Artist of the Gold Rush .
About The Fandango, 1873
There are 24 figures in his painting, many of them in small groups: the group on the porch, one of whom seems to see something alarming in the distance; the fandango dancers and musicians; the small foreground group of two men and a young girl; the boy “roping” a dog; the vaquero stopping his horse abruptly with a senorita in his arms, and the vaquero working the cattle in the background. Nahl's models for the Californios were the “Peruaffios” (from Peru ), who had come from South America to look for gold.
Nahl's title came from the popular meaning of “fandango” – a lively Spanish dance in “triple time.” In the book Two Years Before the Mast , Richard Henry Dana, Jr. described a scene, in which “the women stood upright, with hands down by their sides, their eyes fixed upon the ground before them, and slided about without any perceptible means of motion . . .their faces were as little excited as their limbs.” This historical account bears only slight resemblance to the lively dance in The Fandango . However, a later historical account describes a link between this dance and poetry. According to this account, the dance music would stop suddenly and a singer would cry out “bamba!” Then someone else in the group would recite a verse. In all descriptions of the fandango, dancers held castanets and were accompanied by violin and guitar. In Nahl's painting, the male dancer holds the castanets and the musicians play the violin and guitar.
Notice the dress of the male dancer, the vaquero abruptly stopping his horse, and the tall man standing up and waving his hat behind the dancers. The dress is similar to an 1835 description of the costume of the Californio:
The officers were dressed in the costume which we found prevailed through the country. A broad-brimmed hat, usually of a black or dark-brown color, with a gilt or figured band round the crown, and lined with silk; .. . the shirt open in the neck; rich waistcoat, if any; pantaloons wide, straight, and long, usually of velvet, velveteen, or broadcloth; … They have no suspenders, but always wear a sash round the waist, which is generally red, and varying in quality with the means of the wearer. Add to this the never-failing cloak, and you have the dress of the Californian.
Nahl's painting does portray the social traditions of the Californios, as late-19th century Californio Guadalupe Vallejo remembers, “We shall always be especially proud of the traditions and memories of the long pastoral age before 1840. Indeed, our social life still tends to keep alive a spirit of love for the simple, homely, outdoor life of our Spanish ancestors on this coast, and we try, as best we may, to honor the founders of our ancient families.” Among the prosperous families, dances and balls would take place in large rooms or on hard-packed earth. Most would last well into the early morning hours, or in some cases, several days. The men pursued their recreational activities on horseback, which, Nahl's painting of the dashing horseman portrays. Notice the little boy in front imitating the vaqueros by “roping” the dog.
Nahl brings further authenticity to his painting by representing the diversity of peoples who lived in California by the mid-1800s. He reinforces this believability with his “fool-the-eye” attention to texture and detail, guiding the viewer to see the satin, velvet, and clouds of dust. He achieves all of these effects with brushstrokes that never show.
About The Californios
When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the lands of the current states of Texas and California became part of Mexico . In 1834 the Mexican government seized the land previously owned by the Spanish missions in California . The Mexican government in turn sold grants to the Californios for large areas of this land, from 10,000 to over 100,000 acres. Californios were Spanish-speaking people of Mexican or Spanish descent who settled in California .
These Californios formed large cattle ranches, called ranchos, along the coast. By 1850 some 200 Californio families owned about 14 million acres. Most of them sold cattle hides and tallow, which is animal fat. Tallow was used to make candles and soap. Some Californios also made wine and grew citrus fruits, which were exported. Eastern sailing ships came to California with goods and took back the cowhides, called California Banknotes, because of their great demand in the east. The rancho owners thrived and enjoyed a life of leisure, grace and style through the labors of the ranch hands called vaqueros , American's first cowboys. Many vaqueros were Native Americans (who had previously worked in the missions).
After the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848) California became part of the United States and achieved statehood in 1850. Through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the Californios became U.S. citizens and were guaranteed the rights to their lands, but these rights were soon violated. The same year that the Mexican-American war ended, the first nuggets of gold were discovered in California . As thousands of miners arrived and were unable to “strike it rich,” some began to live on the ranchos without permission and seized the land by force. These squatters killed the cattle, burned the crops and chased the Californios off their own land. By the 1870s the Californios' life of leisure and grace had come to an end.
California Consultancy for Arts Education, Inc. Print Portfolio: Lesson Plan Packet for Charles Christian Nahl's Sunday Morning in the Mines.
California Consultancy for Arts Education, Inc. Summer Art Institute. Artist/Artwork Commentary, 1995.
Stevens, Moreland L. Charles Christian Nahl: Artist of the Gold Rush. Sacramento, CA: E. B. Crocker Art Gallery, Sacramento, 1976. http://www.californios.us/ca/, 9/05.