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Art of the Gold Rush

Art of the Gold Rush: (Published in association with the Oakland Museum of California and the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento)

Janice T. Driesbach
Harvey L. Jones
Katherine Church Holland
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Art of the Gold Rush
    Book Description:

    The California Gold Rush captured the get-rich dreams of people around the world more completely than almost any event in American history. This catalog, published in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, shows the vitality of the arts in the Golden State during the latter nineteenth century and documents the dramatic impact of the Gold Rush on the American imagination. Among the throngs of gold-seekers in California were artists, many self-taught, others formally trained, and their arrival produced an outpouring of artistic works that provide insights into Gold Rush events, personages, and attitudes. The best-known painting of the Gold Rush era, C.C. Nahl'sSunday Morning in the Mines(1872), was created nearly two decades after gold fever had subsided. By then the Gold Rush's mythic qualities were well established, and new allegories-particularly the American belief in the rewards of hard work and enterprise-can be seen on Nahl's canvas. Other works added to the image of California as a destination for ambitious dreamers, an image that prevails to this day. In bringing together a range of art and archival material such as artists' diaries and contemporary newspaper articles,The Art of the Gold Rushbroadens our understanding of American culture during a memorable period in the nation's history.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93515-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Stephen C. McGough and Dennis M. Power

    As the sesquicentennial of the discovery of gold in California approaches, it is particularly appropriate that our two California-focused institutions collaborate on an exhibition that presents and interprets the rich legacy of painting created during and about the Gold Rush.

    The first public museum in continuous existence west of the Mississippi River, the Crocker Art Museum was founded by citizens lured west by California’s mineral wealth and rapid growth. Following financial success realized from the construction of the transcontinental railroad, itself hastened by the discovery of gold, Edwin Bryant Crocker and his wife, Margaret, began acquiring master paintings and drawings...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Harvey L. Jones, Janice T. Driesbach and Katherine C. Holland
  6. Lenders to the Exhibition
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  8. Introduction THE LURE OF GOLD
    (pp. 1-5)
    Janice T. Driesbach

    James Marshall’s discovery of gold along the American River near Sacramento in January 1848 precipitated an influx of immigrants from all over the world to California in search of promised wealth. Rumors of gold began circulating soon after Marshall took his find to John Sutter at Sutter’s Fort, where the two confirmed, to the best of their knowledge, that the metal was indeed gold. Sutter tried to keep the discovery secret, but word soon traveled, carried by teamsters delivering goods to Coloma, among others. Although announcements appeared in San Francisco papers by mid-March, it was not until 12 May, when...

  9. First in the Field
    (pp. 7-14)
    THOMAS A. AYRES, E. HALL MARTIN, Janice T. Driesbach and Harvey L. Jones

    Among the first artists booking passage to California from the East following news of the gold discovery were Thomas A. Ayres and E. Hall Martin. Both boarded thePanamain New Jersey on 4 February 1849 and arrived in San Francisco in early August. There is no evidence Ayres and Martin knew each other previously, but they surely became acquainted during the long passage. Although they were contemporaries and both had careers as artists, Ayres as a draftsman with an engineering firm in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Martin as a painter in Cincinnati, they do not appear to have stayed...

  10. Scenes of Mining Life
    (pp. 15-35)
    John Prendergast, Augusto Ferran, William McIlvaine, W. Taber, William Birch McMurtrie, Harrison Eastman, Samuel Stillman Osgood, A. G., John Henry Dunnel, Washington F. Friend, John Woodhouse Audubon, Francis Samuel Marryat, E. Godchaux and Janice T. Driesbach

    Professional artists created a significant number of important paintings or drawings of Gold Rush subjects, but many other individuals also contributed to the artistic legacy of this period. Some were trained as artists, but stayed in California only briefly. Others pursued related careers as engravers or illustrators, publishing handbooks, prints, or letter sheets of mining tales and activities. Yet others probably indulged in sketching or making watercolors as a pastime to relieve the boredom and loneliness they experienced far from home. The images they recorded along riverbeds and in mining camps and towns throughout much of Northern California tend to...

  11. Portrait Painter to the Elite
    (pp. 37-46)
    WILLIAM SMITH JEWETT and Janice T. Driesbach

    Late in 1849 San Francisco gained its first resident professional painter when William Smith Jewett arrived on 17 December. Like many Argonauts, Jewett had traveled with a mining company, which broke up shortly after their ship reached port. The adventurers’ arrival amidst heavy rains, which soaked the city to the extent that “everything... here looks as though it had been shaken into a complete jelly,” delayed their progress to the goldfields.¹

    Jewett had met with mixed success in his practice in the East,² but within six weeks of his arrival in California he reported securing a number of commissions. Although...

  12. The Hessian Party
    (pp. 47-63)

    Portraiture, genre painting, illustration, lithography, graphic design, and photography were among the various art services that the Nahls, Charles Christian, and his half-brother, Hugo Wilhelm Arthur, known as Arthur, and a family friend, Frederick August Wenderoth, offered to a Gold Rush clientele. Until they arrived in 1851, no artist in California possessed the high quality of European academic art training or the depth of professional and technical experience that these three men brought to an extensive range of artistic enterprises. The Nahls, from the city of Kassel, in Hesse, in what is now west central Germany, were descendants of a...

  13. Souvenirs of the Mother Lode
    (pp. 65-75)

    The professional life of Ernest Narjot, a pioneer California artist, spanned nearly a half century beginning with his arrival in San Francisco during the early years of the Gold Rush. Ernest Etienne Narjot de Francheville was born on Christmas Day, 1826, to a French family of artists in Brittany. He had received his early art training from his parents and continued his studies at an art school in Paris before the age of sixteen. An adventurous young man, Narjot yielded to the temptation of riches in faraway California. He set sail from France and endured the rigors of the voyage...

  14. Mining the Picturesque
    (pp. 77-90)
    A. D. O. BROWERE and Janice T. Driesbach

    A latecomer to California, the New York artist A. D. O. Browere arrived in 1852, after a four-month voyage via Cape Horn. Browere’s first trip to the Pacific coincided with what is comsidered to be the last years of the Gold Rush, and although would-be miners would arrive for many years, claims were harder to establish and gold more difficult to acquire. Browere’s motives for venturing to California are uncertain; like many other Argonauts, he had achieved some stature in the East (the trip was, after all, costly), but his accomplishments were modest. If he traveled to California for gold,...

  15. In the Wake of the Gold Rush
    (pp. 91-99)

    By the mid-1850s, artists were attracted to California not so much by gold as for other reasons. Mining was now less of an incentive to immigrate than were the state’s stunning geography and excellent climate, not to mention its flourishing economy. With the advent of the Industrial Exhibitions of the Mechanics’ Institute in 1857, which offered new opportunities to exhibit art, and San Francisco’s establishment as a thriving metropolis, artists could expect the benefits of increasing patronage. Whatever their individual motivations, painters continued to flock to San Francisco in the late 18505 and early 1860s. Several of them, including Frederick...

  16. Sentiment and Nostalgia
    (pp. 101-116)

    Much of the art created during that first decade following the historic discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 has itself become historically important as the beginnings of the visual arts tradition in California. Because the gold that served as impetus for their quest remained elusive for most of the artists, they soon reverted to the profession for which they trained. Initially their work was largely documentary: The Argonaut artists chronicled the places and events surrounding this epic phenomenon in drawings and paintings that functioned as eyewitness accounts. Soon the most talented and best-trained artists established their studios in...

  17. Biographies of the Artists
    (pp. 117-131)
    Katherine Church Holland
  18. Notes
    (pp. 132-137)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 138-139)
    (pp. 140-141)
  21. Index
    (pp. 142-148)