The Cantor Arts Center has deaccessioned two 19th-century American paintings from its collection: Charles Christian Nahl’s Saturday Night in the Mines, 1856, and Crossing the Plains,1856. Both works are oil on canvas. Ownership of the paintings has been transferred to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California.
The Association of Art Museum Directors defines deaccessioning as “the process by which a work of art or other object . . . wholly or in part, is permanently removed from a museum’s collection.” The paintings’ permanent move to the Crocker follows both the letter and the spirit of the Association’s professional practices guidelines for deaccessioning artworks, which state: “Deaccession decisions must be made with great thoughtfulness, care, and prudence . . . and [in] the interests of the public, for whose benefit collections are maintained.”
The Crocker Art Museum, which specializes in California art, is the ideal collection for the two Nahl paintings. It is already home to Charles Christian Nahl’s, 1872 Sunday Morning in the Mines. Whereas Saturday Night depicts a simple candlelit scene of miners in their cabin—weighing gold dust, cooking, or quietly getting drunk—Sunday Morning, set outdoors in a mining camp, portrays the gamut of activities that characterize camp life: horse racing, gambling, drinking, fighting, reading the Bible, washing clothes, and writing letters home. The transfer to the Crocker will allow the companion paintings to be displayed together.
Nahl’s Crossing the Plains complements the scene of life in the Sierra gold mining camps. In this painting, a family making the dangerous westward journey in a covered wagon pauses to rest their oxen on a desolate plain. Crossing the Plains (11 feet high, 17 feet wide) and Saturday Night in the Mines (10 feet high, 16 feet wide) are the largest Nahl oil paintings still in existence, and the Crocker Art Museum’s spacious galleries will provide the optimal viewing experience for the public.
The transfer to the Crocker also represents a homecoming for the Nahl canvasses. Both paintings originally hung in a Sacramento saloon and were afterwards on display in the California Statehouse, where they attracted the notice of Jane Stanford, who subsequently purchased them.
When the Leland Stanford Jr. Museum expanded and reopened in 1999 as the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Saturday Night in the Mines was featured in “Pacific Arcadia,” the new Center’s second major exhibition, which focused on depictions of early California life.
The Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday–Sunday 11 am–5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm, with free admission. The Center is located on the Stanford campus, off Palm Drive at Museum Way. Parking is free after 4 pm and on weekends. Information: 650-723-4177, museum.stanford.edu