In Charles Nahls most famous painting “Sunday Morning in the
Mines” the right side of the picture depicts miners relaxing, writing to their
loved ones, washing their clothes and reading. The left side depicts miners in a
wild free for all, fighting, gambling, drinking and tearing through the camp on
their horses. The meaning is obvious, right is good left is bad.
The typical young miner was lucky to find enough gold to take care of his daily
needs, let alone the big strike. Away from home for the first time, he misses
family, friends but most of all the wife, girlfriend or even the fantasy
girlfriend who lived “down the lane.”
This longing for the gentler sex took two forms. The painted images at the time
reflect this dichotomy.
The first is the ethereal sweet and beautiful maid, note the painting of the
young lady seems almost to be saint like, with the frills on her dress having a
cloud-like appearance. This virginal young lady is surely free from any beastly
lecher that would rob her of her innocence.
The second image a nude or semi-nude over endowed lass was pictured to satisfy
lustful gold seekers. Bars and gambling casinos prominently displayed these
maidens of the evening in provocative posses. The more respectable
establishments pictured the idealized maidens in all their virginal splendor.
Like the Nahls painting we have the good and the bad. The beautiful maiden
awaiting the return of the miner in prosperous attire paid for by the big
strike, as against the bad describing the drunken, lustful miner who squandered
his earnings, if any, on prostitutes, gambling and booze.
For better or worse today we do not put the “good” or “bad” tags on such
behavior. Our understanding of the unconscious drives make for more gray areas
rather than the Victorian black and white world.
The paintings of the era do give an insight of the world of the California
pioneer gold seeker and the results of the separation of those young men in
their great adventure.