R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Charles Christian Nahl – Sunday Morning in the Mines, 1872

Whenever reading up on a historical item, I’m always delighted to see the article accompanied by some sort of artistic representation of the subject, especially when that representation is a genre painting. Sure, such paintings tend to be heavy idealized and hardly qualify as factual documents, even if it’s based on the artist’s own eyewitness account, but I admire how such works illustrate and explore themes which would be highly difficult, if not impossible–depending on the time period–to show using a single photograph. It’d be stating the obvious to say that a photograph is a captured image of the real world, whereas a painting might be considered a portrayal of the real world as viewed by the artist.

Simply put, however cliché they might be, I enjoy the narratives commonly found in genre paintings. Although these works aren’t realistic in terms of execution, they often provide a subtext which tries to convey a certain truth about its subject matter.


Today’s installment for my Art for the Month of June is Charles Christian Nahl’s painting Sunday Morning in the Mines, one of the most celebrated images depicting the California Gold Rush. Currently in the Crocker Art Museum, Sunday Morning is an eloquently crafted moral allegory inspired by his observations of the Forty-niners. On the left side of the composition one will observe miners indulging in various hedonistic activities, including drunkenness, fighting and gambling, while the miners to the right side have dedicated themselves to more virtuous, constructive efforts, such as doing laundry and reading the Bible. Far in the background, down below the mountain peaks, a Native American camp can be spotted, perhaps to signify the old way of life before the white man’s arrival. One should also note the simple but effective still life found within the assortment of tools and mining equipment by the campfire.

Sunday Morning is a wonderful image which was undoubtedly the product of much forethought, both in terms of narrative craftsmanship and message it intended to convey. However, if one were to critique this image based solely on how naturally it might portray a real life scene, Sunday Morning it would be dismissed as inauthentic.

Oh well. Who says a work of art can't be inauthentic and sincere?

As a bonus, behind the cut I’ve included Nahl’s Dead Miner, which I consider an incredibly moving piece but unfortunately not the best introduction to this particular genre of painting surrounding the Gold Rush.

charles christian nahl dead miner
Tags: art for the month of june
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