Wisdom on Wednesdays—The arts as fundamental

The idea that a work of art is something to be used as an embellishment and its possession is the mark of a cultured person (provided the work of art is in style) and nothing else, is the mark of decay in European society.
“The fact of the matter is that the arts are as fundamental to the material life of man as the sacraments are to his spiritual.  As the sacraments fail, so do the arts.”  (1943)

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Still Life with Banana, c. 1975, oil on canvas, 18 x 15 in.

More “lost” paintings—Religious works

Last month we looked at over a dozen “lost” paintings of Carl Schmitt, works whose locations or owners remain unknown.  The Foundation relies largely on the owners of such works for photographs and information about them (dimensions, signature, date and other markings) whereby we can build up our catalog raisonné.  This can help us trace Schmitt’s stylistic development and his contribution to art in the twentieth century.  

This post provides a cross-section of Schmitt’s work from the 1920s through the early 1950s.  As we have seen before in Schmitt’s work, the paintings, while traditional in content (taking up such well-worn subjects as the nativity of Christ and the Holy Family), are innovative in technique and expression.  As a critic remarked upon Schmitt’s large “Nativity,” “One might well have believed that ‘the Nativity’ could not be given a new significance.  Yet using all the familiar paraphernalia, the artist has informed the theme with astonishing vividness and beauty.”  The same could be said of his still lifes and portraits.

Although a deeply religious man, Schmitt did not see his art primarily as an outlet of his own religious feeling, but, as we have seen, as a mystical reflection of objective truth as revealed in religion.  He even eschewed the term “religious art,” seeing all of the Fine Arts as rooted in “mystical religion,” “the vital force from which springs all [of man’s] notable activity.”  “Great art is an exact barometer and contemporary of religion,” Schmitt wrote in his 1925 essay “Ritual: The Gate, “not religion as the popular historians record it, an exterior thing, the machine, the corporate thing alone, nor as the Puritan records it, the ‘inner light’ alone, an individual disease, but mysticism: the just balance between interior individual communion with God and corporate life in God.”

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Holy Family—Gothic Decoration, oil on canvas, 1922
A contemporary black-and-white photograph.

Holy Family—Gothic Decoration, 1922 — A companion work to the large Nativity (now at the Carl Schmitt Foundation studio-gallery in Silvermine) and featured with it in the prestigious journal International Studio in 1925.  After seeing it at the exhibition of the Architectural League of New York in 1925, a critic for The New York Times marveled how it was “permeated with a tenderness and richness of devotional feeling.”

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Gethsemane, 30 x 25 in.
from a contemporary black-and-white photograph in the Carl Schmitt Foundation archives

Gethsemane, 1924 (30 x 25 in.) — This painting and the following pair were exhibited together at a one-man show at the Art Alliance of Philadelphia in early 1930 and at Park Avenue Galleries in New York later that year.

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Gethsemane Gold and Silver, c. 1930, oil on canvas, 30¼ x 25 in.
The unusual coloration of this work may offer some idea of look of his earlier painting on the same subject seen above.  Critics often remarked on Schmitt’s powerful use of color in paintings of this period, particularly those of a “mystical” character.

Of four paintings by Schmitt on this theme, this is perhaps the most arresting.  A critic from the New York Herald Tribune called the painting “impressive,” remarking that it possessed a “subtle quality not entirely unlike the mysticism of El Greco.”

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Guardian Angel, c. 1929

Guardian Angel, c. 1929 (30 x 36 in.) — This painting was first exhibited at the Silvermine Guild in the summer of 1929, and thereafter at numerous exhibitions in Connecticut and New York City.  A contemporary review described it as “an exquisitely simple portrait of a young girl,” which is “given its angelic quality by an unearthly light which plays about her features.”

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Madonna of the Milk Bottle, 1930
The New York Times wrote that the painting “is the one that speaks most clearly of Mr. Schmitt’s genius for suffusing a subject upon which minds have grown dull with a fresh innocence of rendering that arouses new interest.”

Madonna of the Milk Bottle, 1930 — When asked by the editor of the journal Liturgical Arts, Maurice Lavanoux, to send a representative sample of his work, Schmitt sent a photograph of this painting.  It was printed as the frontispiece of the  in the November, 1944 issue.  Schmitt reported to Lavanoux, “The Madonna was bought some years ago by the doctor who discovered that orange juice or tomato juice should be fed to infants. He is not a Catholic but a Jew. I forget his name.”  Lavanoux later published an excerpt from Schmitt’s unfinished book Europe and the Arts in the journal.

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Ven. Francis Libermann, early 1950s

Ven. Francis Libermann, early 1950s — Libermann (1804-52) was known as the “second founder” of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a religious order with a seminary in Norwalk, Connecticut, which was attended by Schmitt’s son Jacob. The order sold the seminary in 1979, and it is not known what has become of the painting.  It was reproduced as the frontispiece of a biography of Libermann, Star of Jacob, published in 1953.

More “lost” paintings—Imaginative works

Last week we looked at several early “lost” works of Schmitt.  There is also a trove of imaginative paintings from the 1920s—among them Schmitt’s most acclaimed works—whose owners and locations remain unknown.

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A Christening Party at Chartres, oil on canvas, 1928.
After being shown at the 27th Carnegie International to critical acclaim, this painting was bought by the Pittsburgh Athletic Club in January 1929 for $1,500.  A search by the Carl Schmitt Foundation at the PAC was unsuccessful and the painting’s location remains unknown.

Muses on the Mount, 1921 — The first of a series of “muse” paintings which includes Muses on in the Valley (1921) and Muses Marooned (two versions, 1934 and 1936).  The painting, along with Dalmatian Mother and another unlocated work, Cafe, Chartres, was sent to Mrs. Julius Goldman, whose father-in-law was the founder of Goldman Sachs.  It is not known if Mrs. Goldman purchased the work.

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An unidentified “muses” painting, probably Muses on the Mount

Temples Unfinished, 1921 (oil and Hawthorne medium, 25 x 30 in.) — One of a number of paintings inspired by the artist’s love for Rome and its architecture (others include Esto Perpetua and Schmitt’s depictions of the palace of Septimius Severus), this work was shown at the Carnegie International in 1921, and in 1923 at the National Academy in New York.  It also figured prominently in a three-man show in Silvermine in the summer of 1924, one of the first hosted by the new Silvermine Guild of Artists.

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Temples Unfinished, 1921
A contemporary black-and-white photograph in the Carl Schmitt Foundation archives.

From that Silvermine show the painting was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Walter S. Poor of New Canaan, Connecticut.  The Poors were one of Schmitt’s most loyal local patrons at the time, purchasing no less than seven works from the artist between 1922 and 1924. Their collection of Schmitts included the lovely pastel Peach Blossoms, later given to the New Canaan Historical Society and shown at an exhibition of the artist’s works there in 2011.

Land of Efthil, 1922 (30 x 36 in.) — First exhibited at the Carnegie International in 1922, no photograph or detailed description exists for this curiously-titled work.  A critic from the Christian Science Monitor described it and Temples Unfinished as “tranquil transcripts of antique themes.”

A Gift of Fruit, 1926 (below) — A masterpiece of Schmitt’s tapestry style, this painting was shown at the 25th Carnegie International exhibition in 1926 and sold the next year from a show at Art Institute of Chicago. The last known owner was Mr. Harold Janisch, a Boston banker, in 1944. The New York Evening Post described it as “a vast web of color holding forms in its tapestried pattern, yet for all its flaming tones subdued to its unity of design.”

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A Gift of Fruit, 1926, oil on canvas (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), called it “nosegay of color,” “a celestial thought of motherhood treated with a delightful levity and joyousness.”

A Picnic, 1927 (oil on canvas, 35 x 42 in.) — One of Schmitt’s best known works at the time, A Picnic was shown at numerous national and international exhibitions before being purchased by Arthur Judson, manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.  Judson lent it to the Century of Progress exhibition at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, but there has been no trace of it since then.

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A Picnic, 1927
A critic for a Philadelphia paper called it “a modernized Botticelli. The whole is very amusing and effective, a joyous little canvas.”

According to a critic in the New York Times, the painting “hints remotely at some prescribed rite, an implication all the more appealing that it is so woven with the material of daily life.” The review offers perceptive remarks on Schmitt’s treatment of the figures and tress in the background, a feature noted by other critics.

“It depends almost wholly upon the interesting treatment of the framework in which the episode is placed, but this framework follows a fashion of modern theatre borrowed from a long past century, the fashion of bringing the stage into the body of the theatre and letting the actors in among the audience. Gothic arches are formed from the branches of tall, sleek trees, the foliage forming a rich ornament like that surrounding the porches and windows of medieval cathedrals. The background figures stand within these arches or advance through them, and in the foreground other figures are seated at the little feast, while children and dogs play and take natural, funny attitudes that perfectly fulfill the design.”

A Christening Party at Chartres, 1928 (oil on canvas, 45 x 54 in.) (see image above) — One of many works inspired by Schmitt’s stay in Chartres, France 1926-27, a reviewer called it a “golden gaiety,” “one of those pictures which make you long to be in the place depicted.”  The painting was first exhibited at the 27th Carnegie International exhibition in late 1928, after which it was purchased by the Pittsburgh Athletic Association.  A search by the Foundation in the PAA’s headquarters in was unsuccessful.

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A Christening Party at Chartres (center) hung at an exhibition, probably the 1928 Carnegie International.

The location of a very similar painting, Dance of Life, Chartres, was also unknown until its owner contacted the Foundation in 2011.

The Second Night, 1929 (oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in.) — This enigmatic painting, first shown at the Carnegie International exhibition in 1929, was seen in cities across the country in the next 7 years. It was owned by Schmitt’s patron John Kenneth Byard in 1936 (who lent it to a show in Dallas that year), but was not among the artworks given by Byard to his alma mater Hartwick College in 1950.

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The Second Night. 1929

Asked by a curator at the St. Louis Museum of Art about the “meaning” of the painting, Schmitt responded, “As I am reluctant to inflict mystical implications upon what is largely an extroverted public, I thought it best only to imply through the title the idea of the ‘second night of the soul’ and to allow the beholder to make his own story.”

If you own any work by Carl Schmitt, or wonder if the painting, pastel or etching you own may be one of his works, we would be delighted to hear from you!  We are especially interested in works not found in the CSF website’s online gallery.