Ernest E. Narjot (American (born France), 1826-1898)
Mon Brave, 1871
Oil on canvas 40 in. x 30 in. (101.6 cm x 76.2 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from Patty and Barry French, conserved with funds provided by Gerald D. Gordon2006.9
Ernest Narjot painted mining scenes, landscapes, portraits and figure studies, and murals. He was born in St. Malo, France, and raised in Paris by artist parents. He received formal art training there, but was lured to California by gold in 1849 and eventually settled in San Francisco. By the 1880s, he was considered one of California’s foremost painters. In 1851, Narjot produced an early painting of mining activities at Foster’s Bar near Downieville. He continued to paint mining subjects for several decades and also illustrated books on early California life. Nostalgia for the “days of 49” was especially high in the early 1880s, when the artist exhibited The Old Times in California, Miners: A Moment of Rest, and Struck it Rich. Though not in exact detail, the painting below closely resembles descriptions of Struck it Rich, which Narjot first showed in 1885. The San Francisco press assessed that scene as “a rugged canyon on the banks of the Yuba river, near Foster’s bar. . . . In the foreground is a red-shirted, grizzled California miner. . . . He is bending forward looking into the pan held by a brother miner, who is pouring out the contents of his pan, at the bottom of which the yellow metal lies. Between the two men and a little farther to the right is a lad . . . [who] appears to be just stepping out from behind some rocks.”1 The red pompom on the young man’s hat, which indicates that he is a French sailor, suggests that the miners are probably French. Narjot never forgot his French heritage and continued to prefer his native language, sometimes incorporating it directly into his work. Mon Brave is a painting about the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), a conflict between France and Prussia. It depicts a woman kissing the portrait of her soldier boyfriend who has presumably gone off to battle. The wreath in the painting reads “Mon Brave,” and the woman holds forget-me-nots in her hand.
1. San Francisco Chronicle, 4 March 1888. Claudine Chalmers graciously assisted in researching this entry.