Reviews of Carl Schmitt’s early work in newspapers and magazines were generally limited to judgments based on now-dated concepts of “sincerity” and “sentiment,” while noting his youthful “promise” and his penchant for “brilliant” or “flaming” color. (Typical also was the misspelling of Schmitt’s last name, although this would become less frequent as he became better known.) Any mention of the artist’s technique, as in the anonymous review in the New York Post below, was unusual.
Not all the reviewers were sanguine, however. Royal Cortissoz, the acknowledged dean of art critics in his day, would compare Schmitt to a pair of now-forgotten artists, Messrs. A. F. Musgrave and Cecil Bone. “Neither of the two makes any great pretense to ability,” Cortissoz wrote condescendingly, “but both have a certain measure of talent, making clever and agreeable landscape studies. . . A kindred effect is made by Mr. Carl Schmitt at the Babcock gallery, an artist similarly modest in equipment and appeal who has similar merits.” The following year, Cortissoz would opine that “Mr. Schmitt’s faintly imaginative ideas are lost in tasteless color and a forced style.”
A number of Schmitt’s early pastels were done in a style typical of the 1910s and early 1920s, and in time this style would mature. Most serious critics, while not always understanding what Schmitt was doing, readily acknowledged that his work was anything but “faintly imaginative,” recognizing his sustained attempt to create not ‘pot-boilers,’ but works of permanent value.
Schmitt’s exhibit of pastels at the Babcock Galleries, one of the oldest in New York, in May, 1921 was an early milestone in his career. It was his first major one-man show outside of his hometown of Warren, Ohio, and the first to receive the attention of the press outside of his home state. Although his pictures been shown at large national exhibitions in New York, Washington, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia, since 1912, Schmitt’s work had never been singled out in the reviews of these shows. The following reviews are typical of the ambivalent treatment he was to receive early on from many critics.
Schmidt’s Work Full of Promise
“Carl Schmidt [sic], a young painter of decided promise, is showing a group of pastels at the Babcock Galleries though May 28. He expresses a feeling for design and obtains an interesting decorative quality in all of his work. He appears to lean strongly toward brilliant hues. In some of his pictures his shadows are too obvious and lack the subtle quality that would enhance their interest. His figures, however, show good construction.”
‘Sewing Indoors’ is an interesting composition, “Daffodils” is a well-organized still-life, ‘Doughboy’ is modeled with conviction, ‘Nursing the Baby’ and ‘Young Mother’ have sentiment and ‘Peach Blossoms,’ ‘Road to the Creek,’ and ‘Tea,’ a girl in a brilliant green sweater, are subjects chosen with good taste.”
(American Art News, May 14, 1921)
“Pastels by Carl Schmitt at the Babcock Galleries are essays in full and flaming color. The evanescent delicacy of dry color scrubbed lightly over the pores of paper doesn’t spell pastel to this painter. He seems to rejoice in the pigment vigorously because of his freedom from vehicle. He has no intention of exchanging the smear of oil for the drag of surface. No vehicle, and as nearly as possible no base; color thick as cream, one hue upon another, is his delight. House paint in a setting of foliage stirs him; a red barn through a screen of woods will fix him to the spot.”
(New York Evening Post, May 14, 1921)
“[Carl Schmitt] is a newcomer in the exhibition rooms, but appears to be a painter of promise. The most conspicuous quality of his work is a feeling for decorative design. His predilection for brilliant hues needs toning down; more reserve would result in greater beauty. There is good drawing in his figures. Among the better examples are ‘Sewing Indoors,’ ‘Daffodils,’ a well organized still life, ‘Doughboy,’ which is modeled with conviction, and ‘Young Mother,’ which has sentiment. There is sincerity, too, in ‘Mill from the Dam.'”
(New York American, May 15, 1921)