de Saisset Museum

South Bay's free museum of art and history

Lasting Legacy: The History of the de Saisset Family

September 18 - December 6, 2015

"Where do you get your name, and how do you pronounce it?" These are two of the most frequently asked questions at the de Saisset Museum. The answer is simple. The museum takes its name from the surname of Ernest de Saisset, a former student at Santa Clara College and an aspiring young painter. He came from a family of note, who emigrated from France and settled in San Jose, where they owned considerable property and maintained various business interests.

One of four children of Pedro and Maria de Saisset, Ernest wished to become a professional painter. Finding that quality art instruction was limited in San Jose in the 1880s, he left Santa Clara College to enroll at the Académie Julian in France. He returned to California in 1895 following several years of art study. Unfortunately, he was never able to fully realize his artistic dreams; he died in 1899 at the young age of 35.

In 1950, Ernest's youngest sibling Isabel de Saisset also passed away. Upon her death, she left a bequest to Santa Clara University (renamed from Santa Clara College in 1912) that funded the founding and continued administration of a museum in her brother's name. In addition, she bequeathed one hundred of her brother's paintings as well as family heirlooms and artifacts.

The history of the de Saisset Museum's founding in not unique, but the story of the family behind it is compelling, and at times surprising. Over the years, the de Saisset Museum staff has worked to dig beyond the surface, to better understand the history of the family whose generosity gave this organization life. Through a selection of photographs, artifacts, and familial correspondence, this exhibition seeks to present a fuller picture of the de Saisset family and to pay homage to its lasting legacy.