While mining may be dirty work, sometimes, there is a time for the finer things. The Crocker Art Museum has a massive collection of early California art, much of which is inspired by—and often funded by those who profited from—the gold rush. Located only a few blocks from Old Town Sacramento and the Sacramento History Museum, the Crocker Art Museum makes an excellent addition to round out a day of Gold Rush history.
Top of the list of pieces to see is Sunday Morning in the Mines. This is the most challenging to find, as it is placed in the European gallery rather than the California gallery. Painted in 1872 by Charles Christian Nahl, the painting contrasts a group of miners drunkenly frolicking on the left against a small, pious congregation to the right, listening to a preacher. While a German born artist, Nahl came from a place of experience. Like many Europeans upon hearing about the gold bonanza in California, Nahl traveled to the California gold fields to strike it rich. While he failed to realize those dreams, he did live out the rest of his life in Sacramento and San Francisco as a successful painter.
Another painting of note is the Allegory of Mining, by Theobald Reinhold von Oïr. Painted in 1868. Oïr is another German born painter. This painting explores the virtues and perils of mining as men on the lower left discover riches while people on the lower right hover over a man who has been overcome by fumes. Angels painted on the frame present scrolls with poems celebrating the nobility of mining.
To see two of the major figures in the California gold rush, stroll to the California gallery to see portraits of General John A. Sutter (by Stephen William Shaw, 1873) and Sam Brannan (by Joseph Strong, 1882). Most everyone knows Sutter for the mill named after him where gold was first discovered in the California foothills. Slightly less well known is the newspaper owner, Brannan, who popularized the rush after cornering the market for equipment and then announcing “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!”