Sunday Morning in the Mines, 1872Charles Christian Nahl (American, born Germany, 1818–1878)
Charles Christian Nahl was a German immigrant 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. While he excelled at portraiture, 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.