Artist Biography

Charles C. NAHL
1818 - 1878

Charles Christian Nahl, a painter, lithographer, and engraver was born in Kassel, Germany on October 18, 1818 into a family of artists that dated back to the early 17th century. He was christened Carl Christian Heinrich Nahl and by age 12 was an accomplished watercolorist. Nahl studied art at the Kassel Academy before moving to Paris in 1846 with his family and artist August Wenderoth. In that year he adopted the name Charles. While in Paris he studied with Delaroche and Vernet and exhibited at the Paris Salon. The political turmoil of the French Revolution led them to New York in 1849. The lure of gold in California was so great that they booked passage on a ship which took them to the Isthmus of Panama and, in May of 1851, they sailed through the Golden Gate. A short time was spent mining in the Yuba River area near Sacramento where Nahl began sketching the miners. Unsuccessful at panning for gold, he opened a studio in Sacramento with his brother Arthur and Wenderoth. He began engraving for the local newspaper and painting portraits of the miners in exchange for gold dust. A fire in 1852 destroyed most of Sacramento which prompted him to move to San Francisco. After establishing a studio, Nahl did commercial work such as the membership certificate for the newly formed Vigilante Committee and the grizzly bear on the California state flag. He participated in California's first major art exhibition held in 1857 at the Mechanics' Institute Fair. Nahl is best known for his highly detailed, anecdotal genre of miners and settlers in bawdy situations. His landscapes only served as backgrounds for human activities and were realistically depicted in a style similar to that of Ingres. Nahl died in San Francisco of typhoid fever on March 1, 1878. Works held: De Young Museum; Crocker Museum (Sacramento); Huntington Art Gallery (San Marino); Stanford University Museum; Society of California Pioneers; Bancroft Library (University of California at Berkeley); Amon Carter Museum; California Historical Society; Boston Museum; National Museum of American Art; Autry Museum (Los Angeles); Oakland Museum.

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