de Saisset Museum

South Bay's free museum of art and history

Ernest de Saisset: Selections from the Permanent Collection

September 26, 2009 - April 30, 2010

Ernest & Isabel

Ernest de Saisset (1864-1899) was born to a prominent San Jose family who immigrated to the United States from France during the Gold Rush years. He was the oldest son of Pedro de Saisset, founder and president of the Brush Electric Light Company of San Jose, and Maria J. Palomares. The couple had four children: Ernest, Henrietta, Pierre, and Isabel.

At the age of 16, Ernest de Saisset enrolled in classes at Santa Clara College, staying on for three academic years. In his third and final year, he studied oil painting with Father Tortone, which helped to determine his future path. In 1886, unable to find a suitable professional art teacher in San Jose, de Saisset traveled to Paris and enrolled in the Académie Julian. After several years of study, Ernest returned to San Jose in 1895 and continued to paint until his early death in 1899.

The paintings included in this exhibition are drawn from the Museum's permanent collection and represent only a small portion of the works by Ernest de Saisset in our holdings. Throughout his career, de Saisset focused his attention on portraiture, often choosing people who were well-known to him—his parents, siblings, and teachers—as his subjects. This familiarity may have contributed to his ability to capture the true likeness of his sitters. In a letter to his father de Saisset writes, "I am getting along all right [in Paris]—everything comes as easily as eating. They all wonder how [I] get the likeness so well. I beat all the students in painting portraits from nature."

Images, left to right: Ernest de Saisset, Self Portrait, late 19th century, oil on canvas, 55 x 47 in., de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Gift of the Estate of Isabel de Saisset, 1.52. Ernest de Saisset, A Woman (Isabel de Saisset), late 19th century, oil on canvas, 40.5 x 35.5 in., de Saisset Museum permanent collection, Gift of the Estate of Isabel de Saisset, 1.29.