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 Charles Christian Nahl  (1818 - 1878)

About: Charles Christian Nahl


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Lived/Active: California / Germany      Known for: child portrait, historical, animal

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Nahl
1818 (Kassel, Germany)
1878 (San Francisco, California)

California / Germany

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child portrait, historical, animal

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Painted in Latin America
California Painters
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Kassel, Germany, to a renowned family of artists, Charles Nahl is described as "California's first significant artist" . . . (Baigell 247). He became a painter of portraits, scenes of California pioneering that became the basis of the Crocker Museum collection, and of goldmining genre, especially humorous depictions involving alcohal and raucous interaction. He was also an illustrator and engraver.

Charles Nahl and his half-brother, Hugo Nahl, attended the art academy of Kassel and then went to Paris in 1846 to study with Horace Vernet and Paul Delaroche. That year, he changed his name from Carl Christian to Charles Christian Nahl. He also exhibited at the Paris Salon.

Fleeing turmoil of the 1848 Revolution in France, the Nahl family emigrated to New York City, and then lured by the California Gold Rush, Charles and Hugo went to California vis the Isthmus of Panama. Referencing this region four years later, Charles Nahl painted "Incident on the Chagres River" in 1855.

The Nahl brothers arrived in San Francisco in May, 1851. They briefly tried gold mining in Yuba River near Sacramento, but the only positive result financially of those experiences was that Charles Nahl began sketching gold miners, which led to a market demand much more lucrative than mining. In 1852, the brothers went to Sacramento where they opened a studio with August Wenderoth, whom they had known from Europe. They painted portraits of miners in exchange for gold dust, did engraving for the local newspaper and "turned out a seemingly endless stream of book, magazine and newspaper illustrations." (Baigell 246) Two books illustrated by Charles Nahl were "Pen Knife Sketches" in 1853 and "Old Block's Sketch Book" in 1856 for writer Alonzo Delano.

However, within a year of setting up that first California studio, they lost most of their work in a fire that destroyed much of Sacramento. They relocated in San Francisco and set up a commercial art and photography studio, from which they made a living for the next 15 years.

By 1867, Charles was doing a number of paintings of California pioneering for Judge E.B. Crocker, who became his patron and for whom the Crocker Museum is named. During the 1870s, Nahl's genre paintings of the heydey Gold Rush days became very popular. He also designed the Bear on the California state flag.

Charles Nahl died on March 1, 1878 in San Francisco of typhoid fever. "At the time of his death, he was considered one of the leading painters of pioneer life in California" (Falk 2385)

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"
Matthew Baigell, "Dictionary of American Art"

Biography from William A. Karges Fine Art - Beverly Hills:
Charles Christian Nahl was born in to a family of artists in Kassel, Germany, in 1818. Nahl studied at the Kassel Academy before moving to Paris in 1846, where he exhibited in the prestigious Paris Salon. The onset of the French Revolution prompted Nahl to head for the U.S., and ultimately California, where gold was the attraction.

Failing as a prospector, Nahl opened a studio in Sacramento before moving to San Francisco in 1852, where he accepted commercial work as a means of income. His most famous commission was to design the Grizzly Bear that adorns the California State flag. Though he did do many portraits, Nahl's finest legacy is in his paintings chronicling the (sometimes salty) lives of the early prospectors and miners.

Charles Christian Nahl died of Typhoid Fever in San Francisco in 1878.

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