Charles Christian Nahl (American (born Germany), 1818-1878)

Little Miss San Francisco, 1853

Little Miss San Francisco, 1853

Oil on canvas 38 in. x 30 in. (96.52 cm x 76.2 cm)

Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from Mrs. T. Warren Kyddson in memory of her husband, Dr. T. Warren Kyddson; Mr. and Mrs. Vern C. Jones; Crocker Art Museum Memorial Funds; and others


  • Charles Christian Nahl was an immigrant from Germany who became a prolific painter and lithographer of the California Gold Rush. He enjoyed the patronage of prominent citizens in San Francisco and Sacramento for his portraits and genre scenes. Nahl, a native of Kassel, showed early promise and received his earliest training from his father, an etcher and engraver, along with instruction from a cousin known for painting portraits and historical scenes. He also attended the academy in Kassel. Family turmoil motivated him to move to Paris in 1846, where he continued his studies with Horace Vernet and Paul Delaroche. There, he exhibited in the 1847 and 1848 Paris Salons. In 1849, Nahl, his family, and their friend, August Wenderoth, sailed for New York and settled in Brooklyn. Lured by the prospect of gold, the group left for California in 1851. After failing to strike it rich, Nahl returned to art, first in Sacramento and then San Francisco. He excelled at portraiture, especially of children, such as this early portrait entitled Little Miss San Francisco. Many of the genre scenes for which he is today best remembered were painted in the final decade of his life. The artist succumbed to typhoid fever in 1878. Five major works were commissioned by the Crockers in the late 1860s and early 1870s: Sunday Morning in the Mines, The Fandango, The Love Chase, The Patriotic Race, and the tripartite series The Romans and the Sabines. Sunday Morning in the Mines, the best-known painting of these commissions, has become emblematic of the Gold Rush era. An allegory painted in 1872, the scene is based on a lettersheet illustration that the artist created in the early 1850s. The right side of the painting depicts the Sunday morning activities of virtuous miners, and the left depicts the irresponsible pursuits of the morally corrupt. The Fandango was commissioned as a pendant to Sunday Morning in the Mines and reminisces about life on a rancho in California after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. It depicts Californios (Mexicans living in California) enjoying a fiesta. In the center foreground of the painting, a couple dances the Fandango, a dance that originated in Spain, while in the distance vaqueros round up cattle for branding.

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