In the downstairs floor of Santa Clara University’s de Saisset Museum, the view into an exhibit room reveals two large paintings. On the left is a portrait of a woman baring one shoulder, her hair swept into an updo. On the right is a moustached man in a suit holding a painter’s palette with brushes. Both paintings, done with oil on canvas, are the works of Ernest de Saisset, the namesake of the museum. The first is Isabel de Saisset, Ernest’s sister and the second is a self portrait of the artist. The exhibit “de Saisset: From Family Name to Artistic Legacy” isabout the life of Ernest de Saisset and his family.
“The de Saisset family is our museum’s namesake; last year we celebrated the museum’s 60th anniversary, and it gave us a chance to explore Ernest de Saisset and how his artistic pursuits led to the eventual founding of this museum,” says Lauren Baines, museum programs and media relations manager. “Ernest was a student at Santa Clara College during the 1880s and he was an aspiring painter. He actually left Santa Clara College and enrolled in the Academie Julian in France to study art. He returned to California in 1895 and he ended up passing away a few years later in 1899. He was 35 when he died.”
The exhibit reveals that Ernest de Saisset reportedly died of rheumatism, though it has also been speculated that he died of rheumatic fever. An 1895 photo shows the painter concentrating in front of an easel while one of his sisters looks on behind him. An 1876 photo spotlights the three-story mansion the de Saisset family lived in, with horse drawn carriages outside. The description says that the home “stood on land now occupied by The Tech Museum of Innovation.”
A 1950 photograph of Isabel de Saisset depicts a woman with a serene expression and large hopeful eyes.
“Ernest de Saisset’s younger sister Isabel passed away in 1950 and she left a bequest to Santa Clara University and that funded the founding and continued administration of a museum in her brother’s name,” Baines says. “She bequeathed a hundred of her brother’s paintings and family heirlooms and artifacts for the museum.”
Some family members contested Isabel de Saisset’s will. After the conflicts were resolved, the museum’s groundbreaking took place in 1954.
The exhibit photos provide other historical tidbits. After the 1906 Great San Francisco earthquake, estimated 7.8 on the Richter scale, students had to sleep in their beds outside. Another catastrophic event that affected the campus community occurred in 1926 when a fire destroyed the student chapel. The last exhibit photo boasts of Santa Clara College’s electrical lights, considered cutting edge technology back then, that were installed in classrooms around 1886.
Visit scu.edu/desaisset for information about museum hours and directions to the museum.