From the archives: Schmitt and “the surrounding inanities” or, “Why didn’t someone tell me twenty years ago about these men that are selling at fabulous prices now?”

“There are five paintings by Carl Schmitt in the exhibition and it is to be regretted that there are not five collectors in Pittsburgh keen enough to ‘see’ and acquire them.”
—Penelope Redd, on the 1923 “Exhibition of Well-Known Artists,” held at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh

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Ancient Episode, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in.
An oil painting with this title, but with larger dimensions, was shown at the 1923 Carnegie show, along with Annunciation (below) and two “lost” works in Hawthorne medium, The Holy Spirit and the Muse and Mosaic Marriage.

Schmitt had been exhibiting at the major exhibitions across the country for over a decade when he found a champion in the art critic for the Pittsburgh Post, Penelope Redd.  Redd hailed Schmitt as “the logical heir of the great Americans such as Homer and Eakins,” singling him out as “one of the few modern painters that promises to survive the flood of the competently commonplace and the falsely modish.”

The artist was receiving increasingly warm praise from other critics as well.  Reviewing an exhibition in Silvermine in July, 1923, the Christian Science Monitor noted that Schmitt “brings to his work a rare color sense, an instinct for rich design, a fine imagination, and sufficient inspiration to make his effects convincing.”

As Schmitt was being noticed by the critics, his schedule of exhibitions was becoming more crowded than ever.  The year 1923 was particularly busy, with no fewer than 35 of his works featured in a dozen exhibitions, including such prestigious venues as the Carnegie International, the National Academy of Design, the Chicago Art Institute, and the Corcoran Gallery.  His work was also shown at national exhibitions in Cincinnati, Omaha, and Detroit, as well as the usual round of shows in Silvermine.

Among the yellowed newsprint collected in our studio archives, Redd’s review of the 1923 “Exhibition of Well-Known Artists,” held at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, merits note for its keen appreciation of Schmitt’s art and its understanding of his plight as an outstanding young artist who has yet to be “discovered.” 

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A Gift of Fruit, 1926, oil on canvas (a contemporary black-and-white photograph).
“‘A Gift of Fruit'” Redd wrote in a review of the 1926 Carnegie International, “combines the fundamentals which make for the endurance of the older types of painting and the exciting interplay of form and color which marks the newer movements. Carl Schmitt turned away from the assurance of popularity as a pleasant painter to become one of our potentially great painters, although he works in more or less obscurity.”

The curious thing about Carl Schmitt is that one believes he has arrived at a point of crystallization only to discover that he has gone on to something else.  He has developed from the “best student that Emil Carlsen ever had” to one of the few original painters known to us through exhibitions.  At first he painted in a decorative manner that was not unlike the work of Puvis de Chavannes. Every time he changed he dug harder into the form of art—he became less and less satisfied with the delightful effects of his surface decorations and gladly met the dubious comments he encountered.

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The Well, oil on canvas, 1918.
This, one of Schmitt’s most widely exhibited and admired early paintings, was often compared to the work of the nineteenth-century French artist Puvis de Chavannes in its “quiet” and “serenity.”
(A black and white image taken from the catalog of the 32nd Annual Exhibition of American Paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago, where the painting was shown in the fall of 1919.)

The group in the Carnegie Institute is of the last two years and mark his greatest advance. Carl Schmitt is now definitely engaged in giving the significance of the idea although painting what is really “pure design.”  “The Holy Spirit and the Muse” arouses in one many queries as to the artist’s symbolism.  The “Pieta” is a modern primitive.  He has used colors that will disturb the realistic-eyed one but he must have had a deliberate intent in using a glorious yellow touched with red.  The composition with its incessant movement gives the sensation of living life—not the still life that most modern pictures are. Carl Schmitt has the uncanny power of imparting life to his work.  Not by the simulation of vigor through technic but through the ability to make his paintings creative. He is at a decided disadvantage at a large exhibition where the observer cannot isolate Schmitt’s canvases from the surrounding inanities.

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Pietà, c. 1923, oil on canvas, 33 x 41 in.

“The ‘Pieta’ is a modern primitive. . .  [Schmitt] has used colors that will disturb the realistic-eyed one but he must have had a deliberate intent in using a glorious yellow touched with red.  The composition with its incessant movement gives the sensation of living life—not the still life that most modern pictures are.”

A very rich man in this town once said: “But why didn’t someone tell me twenty years ago about these men that are selling at fabulous prices now?”  And the one who loved art answered: “But would you have listened?”

That is particularly true of Carl Schmitt.  It is not reasonable to suppose that a man can show the amazing endurance that Carl Schmitt has in persevering in his desire to paint and to achieve the profound without some day being “discovered.”  The period of waiting is wearisome to those who like to see a young painter encouraged, and it is precarious for the painter himself.  There are five paintings by Carl Schmitt in the exhibition and it is to be regretted that there are not five collectors in Pittsburgh keen enough to “see” and acquire them.

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Annunciation, c. 1922, oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in.
Also shown at the 1923 exhibition in Pittsburgh.

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