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Guide to the de Saisset Family Papers
PP-de Saisset  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography/History
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: de Saisset Family papers
    Dates: 1829-1976
    Bulk Dates: 1829-1900
    Accession number: PP-de Saisset
    Creator: de Saisset, Ernest
    Collection Size: 3 linear feet
    Repository: Santa Clara University Archives
    Santa Clara, CA 95053
    Abstract: This collection includes materials from the deSaisset family consisting of correspondence, financial papers, legal records, diaries and accounts, as well as clippings and ephemera.
    Physical location: Stored in the Santa Clara University Archives.
    Languages: Languages represented in the collection: English


    Santa Clara University permits public access to its archives within the context of respect for individual privacy, administrative confidentiality, and the integrity of the records. It reserves the right to close all or any portion of its records to researchers.
    The archival files of any office may be opened to a qualified researcher by the administrator of that office or his/her designee at any time.
    Archival collections may be used by researchers only in the Reading Room of the University Archives and may be photocopied only at the discretion of the archivist.

    Publication Rights

    Permission to copy or publish any portion of the Archives' materials must be given by the Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], de Saisset Family papers, Santa Clara University. University Archives.


    The de Saisset Family Portrait
    by Carol Pace Harney, Archive Volunteer, History San Jose Archives
    Today the de Saisset name is associated with the art and history museum on the Santa Clara University campus. This museum is named in honor of Ernest de Saisset, an artist who was the elder son of Pedro and Maria de Saisset of San Jose. The de Saisset family was a prominent pioneer family in the San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley in the late 1800s. The de Saisset family consisted of Pedro, the father, who was born in Paris, France; Maria, the mother, who was a California native; two sons, Ernest (1864-1899), an artist and Peter (1870-?), a musician; and two daughters, Henriette (1859-1947), a teacher, and Isabel (1875-1950), who donated the family estate to establish the de Saisset Museum.
    Pedro de Saisset, a San Jose pioneer and businessman, was also the Vice-Consul for the French government. In addition, he was known for starting the Brush Electric Company, which lighted the San Jose City Light Tower. Buying and managing property was important to him. He had a large ranch and owned many downtown San Jose commercial buildings which he leased to a variety of businesses.Pedro-son of Pierre Joseph de Saisset, a colonel of the French National Guard, was born in Paris on August 28, 1829 and died in San Jose on 3 - March 16, 1902 at the age of 72 years. In 1847 he graduated from the University of Paris with an A.B. degree and read Law for one year. His parents then sent him to the United States to escape a military uprising in Paris. Soon after he landed in New York, he set sail for California, arriving in San Francisco after a 135-day trip around South America. In 1882 de Saisset became the first President of the Brush Electric Company, a 70-square-foot brick building located on North Fourth Street in San Jose. This building housed machinery consisting of three steam engines, which produced 400 horsepower to light the San Jose City Electric Light Tower.
    This family also owned a stock ranch of 3,313 acres in Alameda County. Several downtown San Jose commercial properties were still owned by the family in 1943. They included New Century Building, which housed the Wardrobe, A&D Emporium, and Moellering and Goodwin; the Carroll Building; the southwest corner of Post and Almaden, where the Quements had a business; and a South First Street building that included, among other businesses, the Austin Studio.
    The family home was a three-story building located just north of the San Jose Civic Auditorium at 478 Guadalupe Street, now listed as 243 South Market Street. Court records indicate the de Saissets purchased the property from Juan Bernal on August 3, 1861. The 200-feet frontage lot cost $400. The completed house and lot were assessed on July 5, 1866 at $5,615. This family home was later owned by the Jesuit Novitiate in Los Gatos. Henriette de Saisset and her husband, Dr. E.A. Filippello, lived in the house until their deaths.
    Both de Saisset sons, Ernest and Peter, attended Santa Clara College. Ernest received the Drawing Prize for Oil Painting in 1883, and Peter was awarded the Premium in Violin in 1888. Later Ernest moved to Paris to study art. After a few years, Peter also went to Paris to study violin at the Paris Conservatory. Pedro, the father, gave each son financial support and kept many letters written to him by each son in which they described their lives in Paris during the 1890s. In these letters, Ernest described his apartment on Rue Fontaine and how expensive room, board, and art supplies were, suggesting it cost much more to live in Paris than in San Jose.
    When Peter joined Ernest in Paris in May 1893, he had a bad cold and had been suffering from seasickness on the voyage. Soon after his arrival, Peter learned that he was too old and not properly prepared to pass the Paris Conservatory audition. The brothers discovered that the conservatory allowed only two foreigners entrance each year. Not giving up, Peter found a well-qualified violin teacher who had studied at the Paris Conservatory. His teacher's family, who were all musicians, welcomed him into their home.
    The following year, 1895, Ernest sailed home with his oil paintings, including a portrait of Peter. Ernest died four years later in San Jose and is buried in the family plot in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery. Peter told his father that in several years he would return to California, but there are no letters to indicated whether he returned or where he went. There are no local records about him*, and he is not buried with the de Saisset family. His violin music and his several piano compositions, dedicated to Pedro de Saisset, are catalogued and a part of the History San Jose Archives.

    Scope and Content

    The de Saisset Family Papers collection housed in the Santa Clara University Archives consists of letters sent to Pedro de Saisset from his business associates and family, drawings related to architectural plans and farming equipment, and legal documents related to real estate transactions in which he had an interest. The collection includes checking account registers, bank passbooks, newspaper clippings, pencil drawings of people and animals, notebooks, report cards, event programs, and other ephemera. There are documents and letters related to Pedro de Saisset's service as the French consul in San Jose. There is also a diary of Mrs. E.A. Filipello, nee Henriette de Saisset, from January 1917 to November 1920. The diary includes lists of her charitable donations and an account of Peter de Saisset's botched "beauty treatment" and the subsequent lawsuit. The bulk of the collection are letters from Pedro de Saisset's family, notably from his son Ernest, in whose honor the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University was founded.
    Letters from Ernest de Saisset to his father are a fascinating portrait of an artist working in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century. Written in both English and French, the letters reveal Ernest's strong belief in his abilities as a painter and his persistent hope for recognition and success. In one of the first letters, written in 1882 while Ernest was a student at what was then Santa Clara College, Ernest demands of his father: "For God sake if I must say so, send me to some Academy for a year or two, and I will come back here and sweep every artist from the snow capped peaks of the sierra Nevada to the silvery brakers of the Pacific Ocean" (original spelling, capitalization, and punctuation). In 1886 Pedro sent Ernest to the Academie Julian in Paris to study painting, and most of the letters from Ernest in the collection are from his stay in Paris.
    Three major themes emerge in Ernest de Saisset's Paris letters: "send money," the Paris Salon, and the superiority of San Jose over Paris. Every letter begins with a reference to money, either thanking his father for sending it or asking why it has not yet arrived. Ernest clearly considered himself a burden to his father, and yet he seems to have felt entitled to the support. He repeatedly complained about the cost of food, rent, tuition, and the clothing he needed to purchase and maintain to be presentable to the "society" with which he most wanted to associate. Responses in Ernest's letters indicate Pedro was surprised and irritated by the cost of supporting his son as he studied, but Ernest always promises to pay his father back "some day" when he is a successful painter.
    Success did not come as quickly, or as fully, as the de Saisset family expected. As a student at the Academie Julian, Ernest claims to have been the "strongest American painter in Paris." His letters describe his interactions with his instructors and praise they gave him, as well as his plans for paintings that he would submit to the Salon. Several of the paintings described are now in the permanent collection at the de Saisset Museum. Ernest's paintings were rejected year after year for exhibition in the main Paris Salon, and he complained bitterly about the selection process, other painters, and the politics of being a painter in Paris. However, his confidence in his talent, and his belief that his genius would be recognized and richly rewarded, remained high until just a few months before he left Paris.
    Ernest must have been relieved to return to San Jose and Santa Clara Valley after nine years in France. He clearly missed his family, and he frequently compared Paris unfavorably to San Jose. The cost of living was too high in Paris, the temperature was always too hot or too cold, the city was crowded, hostile, and polluted, while San Jose had wide-open spaces, clean air, and friendly, welcoming people. Ernest did not find the acceptance or achievement as a painter he was so confident of attaining in Paris. He was unable to support himself after ending his studies, even with portrait commissions, and so returned to San Jose in 1895, where he died of rheumatism four years later.
    These papers provide not just a description of a struggling artist, but they are also a record of the early development of the City of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley. Pedro de Saisset was an insurance and real estate agent, a rancher, an inventor, and a business investor. His diverse development activities and commercial interests are reflected in the variety of papers he kept.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Painters--California--San Jose.
    San Jose (Calif.)--Commerce.
    Santa Clara College (Calif.).
    Brush Electric Company.
    De Saisset Museum.
    De Saisset family
    De Saisset, Pedro (1829-1902)
    De Saisset, Ernest (1864-1899)
    De Saisset, Henriette (1859-1947)
    De Saisset, Isabel (1875-1950)
    De Saisset, Maria