Scope and Content
Title: de Saisset Family papers
Bulk Dates: 1829-1900
Accession number: PP-de Saisset
de Saisset, Ernest
3 linear feet
Santa Clara University Archives
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 represented in the collection:
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.
Permission to copy or publish any portion of the Archives' materials must be given by the Archives.
[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
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
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in
the library's online public access catalog.
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