This being a Sunday morning, I’d like to share one of my favorite paintings with you: Sunday Morning in the Mines, by Charles Christian Nahl. It was painted in 1872, but harks back to the “Days of ’49.” The painting is in the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. The museum has a number of paintings by Nahl and other California artists.
This painting is a moral allegory — laid out before the viewer are the good and evil choices made by men who are far away from civilization. The two worlds are strictly set apart by the pine tree that bisects the painting. Even the foreground is divided between dark and light. On the left in the foreground among the dark plants are discarded bottles and other trash. On the right, the sun shines and the workman’s tools are set aside for the day.
On the left side of the painting are scenes of riotous living: a wild horse race, a drunken young man being set upon by thieves, an idle smoker, and in the background, a brawl at a gambler’s cabin. The young man’s face is flushed, his out-flung arm clutches his poke, from which the gold dust spills. All is confusion and contention. Even the little scene at the cabin is divided in two — on the left, in shadow, two men are at each other’s throats and the man on the far left fires a pistol, while on the right the three men in the light are trying to break up the fight.
The scene on the right shows peaceable acts of the Sabbath. The men rest from their labors in the goldfields. The central figure reads from the Bible to his two attentive companions, while inside the cabin a man is writing a letter. The two men on the far right are cheerfully doing their laundry, because cleanliness is next to godliness.
Charles Christian Nahl came to California from Germany in 1851, and for a while sought his fortune in gold-mining. But he had trained as an artist in Europe and he soon found a better fortune in illustrating and painting, with a studio first in Sacramento and then in San Francisco. He became the most popular artist of 19th century California. The bear on the California flag is based on his painting of a grizzly bear.
If you would like to see some closeups of Sunday Morning in the Mines, go to this website.