Wisdom on Wednesdays—No hope for mankind

“There is no hope for mankind.
But there is every hope for an individual man.”  (1930)

Portrait of Santo Caserta - CSF11405 - CROPPED

Portrait of Santo Caserta, oil on canvas, c. 1932, 36 x 24 in.
Caserta (1910-2013), a friend of the Schmitts in Silvermine, studied the violin at Julliard School in New York, but had to abandon the instrument on account of a skin condition. He then taught himself to play the cello, and at the age of 46, auditioned for a position in the Philadelphia Orchestra under the legendary conductor Eugene Ormandy. When asked by Ormandy who his cello teacher was, Caserta had to admit that he had taught himself the instrument. Ormandy was so impressed that he gave him the job. which he held for the next twenty years.
Schmitt also painted a portrait of his friend playing the cello.

On This Day: July 22, 1928—“Carl Schmitt is doing things that are unique in America today”

Carl Schmitt - Building a Boat (Croatia) - CSF43002 - from Scribners magazine

Building a Boat, gum arabic print, 1929.
“With Korčula in the background—a white city shimmering in the subtropical sun.”
One of a series of prints Schmitt executed for his article “Korčula, on the Adriatic,” published in the February 1929 issue of Scribners Magazine. Another print in this series, The Chapel, is currently on the New Canaan Historical Society exhibit On Canvas, Paper & Board—Works by The Silvermine Group of Artists, now showing through August 5, 2014.

In the summer of 1928, Ada Rainey, art critic at the Washington Post, wrote a profile of the Silvermine colony, calling it “one of the most creative and unique among all the art colonies.”   This is due in large part, she notes, to the fact that “practically all the artist own their own homes, there being practically no transient artists…Consequently there is a stable population which is entirely different from many artist colonies where artists congregate to merely study or paint throughout the summer without any serious interest in the community.”

Rainey highlighted the work of a number of the better-known artists in the colony, including Carl Schmitt, Bernhard Gutmann, and the architect Alfred Mausolff.  (As if to show the closeness of the Silvermine community, Gutmann was a close friend of Schmitt’s, while Mausolff was the husband of his wife’s sister Margherita.)  

Rainey’s discussion of Schmitt’s art appears below.

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Holy Family—Gothic Decoration, oil on canvas, 1922 (a contemporary black-and-white photograph).
A companion to the artist’s his larger Nativity. A critic for the New York Times wrote of this pair of Schmitt paintings: “[they] are permeated with a tenderness and richness of devotional feeling only equaled in the work of Maurice Denis, and embodied in a less intricate design.”

Of the individual members [of the Silvermine colony], a great deal could be written, for they are producing artists who are truly original.

There is, for instance, Carl Schmitt, who is doing things that are unique in America today. There are few artists today in America who are painting canvasses of real spiritual import.  Religious is a term which means frequently theological dogma, which can by no stretch of the imagination be applied to the painting of Carl Schmitt.  Rather are his creations concerned with the universal feeling of man for his origins and the desire to understand this relationship.

Although the title of some of his paintings are, for instance, “Peter the Hermit,” “Holy Family,” “Celestial Thought of Motherhood,” yet there is no hint of the conventional treatment that we are familiar with in the old Italian paintings.  Rather we find a new approach through the imagination of the artist who is moved by universal themes and must express the surge of feeling that comes to man when he thinks of the infinite and the expression of this power in the lives of men and women.

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A Gift of Fruit, oil on canvas, 1926 (a contemporary black-and-white photograph).
Frank Jewett Mather, professor of art at Princeton University and a leading art critic of the day (and one of the few admired by Schmitt), wrote of the work, “It is a celestial thought of motherhood treated with a delightful levity and joyousness.”

This is the deepest feeling and the most universal that can be expressed through the brush of the painter and one which all art lends itself to express.  Seldom is the American artist bold enough to concern himself with these profound themes.  The plea has been that the public is not interested in such themes, but now there is a swing of the pendulum to the deep feelings.

Mr. Schmitt has a language which is tremendously interesting in itself and which is commanding greater and greater interest in art circles.  He has rich luminous color, which is in no way exaggerated, a fine sense of composition, his figures are woven into a pattern that has organic unity, the whole welded into a beauty and power through the strength of his imagination.

The artist is now coming into his own and his paintings are in great demand for exhibitions throughout the country.  “Muses in the Valley,” exhibited in the last exhibition of the Chicago Art Institute, has just been sold [this evidently refers to A Gift of Fruit, exhibited and sold in 1927], as has another painting of a “Madonna and Child,” with primitive treatment in pastel.

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Head in marble, c. 1924.
Regrettably, Carl Schmitt’s only finished work of sculpture.

Most of his paintings are in oil in which he does his best work.  However, he is not confined to this medium, as an exquisitely beautiful head has just been chiseled out of marble, which is rhythmically beautiful and significant. This is a new field in which the artist has begun to work, which if he continues to be as successful in as this first attempt he will go far toward becoming a sculptor of great plastic power.

Mr. Schmitt has a sense of form which is powerfully expressive.  He is now working on a series of illustrations for an article on the “Cities of Dalmatia.”  The significant element in his work is that fact that he is an artist who works exclusively from the vision of his inner nature and is in no way objective or external, but is profoundly introspective and is seeking to express his feeling directed by philosophical thought of the great realities of life and the universe.

A Vista of the Cathedral (Korčula, Dalmatia), gum arabic print,1929.
Another in the series published in Scribners, February 1929.

New issue of Vision going out today

Vision Enewsletter cover July 2014

I’m sending out the latest issue of Vision—the CSF e-newsletter—later today, with a colorful story on Carl Schmitt’s stay in the enchanted city of Korčula on the Adriatic coast.  There’s also more on the artist’s influence on the American poet Hart Crane, and how Schmitt’s tending his vegetable garden has inspired us here at the Foundation over the summer months.

As always, Vision will feature photos and stories from the archives not seen anywhere else.

If you’re not already a subscriber, you can get your copy delivered to your inbox by clicking here.  You can also read past issues here.

Wisdom on Wednesdays—Where there is Life, there is art

“Whenever in the past we have had mystical life and corporate life existing one in the other, a unity with stress laid upon the mystical (that is, Religion) there we have had art.  Where there is Life, there is art.  Where there is true religion art cannot be stopped.  Where there is no true religion art cannot be encouraged by a million up-lifters.”  (“Ritual: The Gate” (1925))

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Madonna and Child, oil, 20 x 24 in.