No representation can begin to do justice to the vitality, richness, and depth of Carl Schmitt’s original still life painting. When viewing—actually contemplating—the original, the words that come to mind are splendor, mystery, fullness, silence, reverence, delight, magnificence. One finds oneself asking, “How can ordinary objects represented on a stretch of canvas so grip us? What is going on here?”
The starting premise is that “there is much more than what meets the eye” behind those ordinary things we come across each day. It is the genius of the artist to communicate that to us. This is what Schmitt meant when he wrote, “the artist is concerned not with sight but with vision.”
Vision is a penetration into the depth of reality and embodying that insight in a work of art. As Schmitt noted, “reality is the keynote to life and art. To be aware of reality—to be awake, is to be alive. To make paint or stone real is to make it live. A work of art is mature—complete—when it lives and appears real.”
“To be aware of reality—to be awake, is to be alive.”
Schmitt’s mature work is the fruit of a lifetime of perfecting this aesthetic approach and reflecting that vision on canvas. The composition of a bowl, bottle, and oranges is much more than a photographic representation. The objects reveal more being. Schmitt has taken great pains in this painting to capture the form—the active determining principle of a thing—that makes a thing what it is—its “is-ness.”
This capturing of intangible form was the “Holy Grail” of the great masters. They began with an under-painting in a single dark tone as the basis of the form. They then added a thin layer of color—a glaze of paint—letting the under-painting come through. This technique helped to give their works profoundness and beauty.
Schmitt, intrigued by color and its myriad possibilities, grappled with the problem of capturing a glowing richness of color without hiding the under-painting. His breakthrough was to build form with color. By forming his under-painting with multiple layers of color, then paring and “sculpting” back each layer, Schmitt was able to create a unique depth in his work. The background is no mere flat laying on of paint, but a sculpting of colors which allows each layer to shine through, resulting in a vibrant iridescence of color. The final step was to add what Schmitt called the “local” color—the blue of the porcelain dish, the orange of the orange peel, and the effervescent green of the bottle.
The artist’s treatment of the glass objects in this painting is particularly revealing of his grasp of their substance. The blue of the dish as seen through the glass of the large green bottle demonstrates the skill with which the artist layered his colors. In contrast, the smaller bottles in the background depict glass in a less familiar mode: they seem weighty and almost solid. “My father loved to paint glass,” Schmitt’s daughter Gertrude recalls; “it was one of the things he loved to paint.” In this painting, glass is revealed not only as luminescent, but dense and substantial.
“The painter’s business is to paint all that lies outside the empirical field:
to reveal as fully as possible what can never be shown by the camera.
In essence it is to reveal but one thing: volume, mass, and substance,
not to the exclusion of appearance but as a fulfillment of appearance–
in short, to bear witness to the mystery–the miracle–of substance.”
If the mission of the artist is to get us to raise our eyes from the mere usefulness of everyday things to wonder at their inherent beauty, then Carl Schmitt has succeeded magnificently in this still life.
—Austin L. Schmitt