Tracing Carl Schmitt’s “lost” paintings

Over the past few years, people from as far away as Hawaii have contacted me, eager to tell about the work of Carl Schmitt that they own.  Naturally, I am gratified to hear of those who appreciate Carl Schmitt and want to learn more about his work and further his legacy.  More importantly, those who contact the CSF in this way do a tremendous service to everyone interested in Schmitt.

CSF21402

Study for “Reading,” 1936, pastel on paper, 23 x 19 in.
A pastel sketch of the artist’s wife Gertrude (sitting) and her close friend Margaret Ryan, later executed as an oil painting for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the mid-1930s. The location of the oil painting remains unknown. 

Although the Foundation makes every possible effort to locate Schmitt’s unknown works, many are effectively “lost,” or untraceable, and will remain so until the owners themselves contact the Foundation.  The photographic record, as well as details about Schmitt’s works (dimensions, signature, date and other markings) supplied by these individuals are invaluable in building up our catalog raisonné, revealing more of the artist’s stylistic development and his contribution to art in the twentieth century.  For this we are very grateful.

Schmitt’s “lost” works include paintings, pastels, etchings, and drawings; most date from the first half of his career (1906-1940).  The Foundation’s archives hold valuable clues that can help in the search, including exhibition history, critical reviews and other press reports, the last known owner, and in a few cases, photographs of the work.  We will explore this record in the next few weeks, highlighting his imaginative and religious paintings. We will also be looking works which have been “found” by those who have contacted the Foundation with information about their painting or pastel.

WPA 4 - Still Life (plate, bottle, onion , cloth) (from email) - NO BORDER

Still Life, oil on canvas, signed lower left: “S/1936”
One of three still life paintings done for the WPA in the mid-1930s.

In this post we focus on some of Schmitt’s early works, culminating in an important portrait commission from the 1930s.

Opus Minor No. 1, 1911 (15 x 18 in.) — An early still life, described as a “beautiful painting done in dark tones,” it was  Schmitt’s first work to be accepted by a major national exhibition.  The eminent still life master and Schmitt’s former teacher, Emil Carlsen, “highly praised” the work when it was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in February and March of 1912. The painting was later shown at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Academy of Indianapolis before being bought by the Youngstown architect Charles F. Owsley.  (Owsley also commissioned a pastel portrait of his son from Schmitt, now unlocated.)

early still life (pot, egg, garlics) (faded)

One of Schmitt’s early still lifes, possibly Opus Minor No. 1 or another entitled Study (1912), from a photograph in the Carl Schmitt Foundation archives.

Aspiration – Symbolic Decoration, 1912 (oil over tempera) — This work was commissioned by W. D. Packard of Warren, Ohio, founder of the Packard Motor Car Company.  Packard was so pleased with the work that he commissioned a second painting the following year, Shadow Dance – Rondeau.  Packard also commissioned Schmitt to paint his own portrait, which was to hang in the office of the park he left to the city.  No trace of any of these paintings has been found.

Ruth, 1916 (oil on board, 25 x 30 in.) — One of several commissioned portraits Schmitt did for well-to-do citizens in his hometown of Warren, Ohio, and the surrounding area in the early years of his career. This painting, a portrait of the young daughter of a doctor from Youngstown, is his only known oval painting.

11410 - Ruth (Portrait of Ruth Thomas) - CROPPED

Ruth, 1916, oil on board, 25 x 30 in.
The frame is an early example of the work of Carl’s brother Robert, who had recently completed his apprenticeship with Herman Dudley Murphy at the famed Carrig-Rohane shop in Boston.

God’s Garden, 1916 — While no known photograph of the painting exists, a reviewer described it in the following terms: “outlined against a yellow ship’s sail and a gray sky is a group of three or four figures: they are on elevated ground, at the foot of which may be glimpsed a bit of deep blue ocean. In the dress of the figures and in other externals there is a suggestion of the Greek: the idea suggests the fortunate isles.”  Schmitt himself said of the painting, “In that land there is wonderful dawn without dark night to precede it–light is understood without shadow. It is the land in which the human heart finds a release from the puzzling paradox–life in the flesh.”

In 1920, the painting was bought by Samuel Prentiss of Winona, Minnesota, a former client of Schmitt’s father-in-law, the architect Austin W. Lord.  Lord had designed a handsome Georgian mansion for Prentiss in 1912, one of a pair built for him and his brother-in-law Frederick Bell.  The house was recently restored.

11107 - Gertrude_Holding_Jug - CROPPED

Dusting, c. 1934, oil on canvas
One of six paintings done for the Works Progress Administration.

Paintings and pastels done for the Works Progress Administration, 1934 — Schmitt executed six works in oil for the Depression-era program: three still lifes, one imaginative, one portrait and one religious painting. He also completed eight pastels.

The state of Connecticut distributed these works to various state institutions, including sanatoriums, hospitals, and colleges.  All of the institutions to which Schmitt’s paintings were dispersed have since closed or been transferred to different agencies, and the artwork has been lost long the way.  The Connecticut State Library’s WPA Art Inventory Project has been trying to track down and recover these works through a database with information on the artwork from WPA files, including the work of Carl Schmitt.

Tanagra Still Lifes pair

Tanagra and Vase, two versions, both oil on canvas, c. 1934.
The painting on the right (taken from a contemporary black-and-white photograph) was done for the WPA; its companion on the left, done around the same time, is owned by one of Schmitt’s grandsons.

Portrait of Zell Hart Deming, 1937 — Deming, owner and editor of Schmitt’s hometown newspaper, the Warren Tribune, was the first of Schmitt’s patrons and a life-long friend.  The first editor-owner of an American newspaper and the first woman to be a member of the Associated Press, Deming funded Schmitt’s study in New York at the National Academy and his trip to Italy a few years later.  Over the years she purchased or arranged the sales of over twenty of Schmitt’s oil paintings and dozens of his pastels, etchings, and drawings.  She also introduced Schmitt to her godson, the poet Hart Crane, and helped arrange Schmitt’s guardianship of Crane in New York in the early months of 1916.

Zell Hart Deming 1936, oil on canvas, signed “Carl Schmitt/1937” upper right 
A newspaper in nearby Youngstown wrote that the “portrait faithfully captures Mrs. Deming’s personality, which was characterized by her forceful yet kindly manner.  Schmitt knew her for many years and spent several months painting the portrait.”

The newspaper commissioned Schmitt to paint this portrait for its offices as a posthumous tribute.   The Tribune article announcing the hanging of the painting reads much like earlier congratulatory pieces published by Deming herself:

“The painting is the work of Carl Schmitt of Silvermine, Conn. (son of Prof. and Mrs. Jacob Schmitt of this city) who was most fortunately adapted to the task by reason of his long acquaintance with Mrs. Deming, in addition to his outstanding qualities as a portraitist. From the time he embarked on his artistic career as a boy, here in Warren, Mrs. Deming recognized Mr. Schmitt’s talent and the possibilities inherent in it, and thruout her life she continued in a very real sense to be his patron.”

An inquiry to the newspaper as to its whereabouts proved fruitless.  Schmitt produced two versions based on the same photograph, one shown here and another now in the Carl Schmitt Foundation studios.

Next week we look at several “imaginative” paintings from the 1920s whose locations remain unknown.

11421 - Zell Hart Deming [2] 1937 - signature

Advertisements

One thought on “Tracing Carl Schmitt’s “lost” paintings

  1. Pingback: More “lost” paintings—Imaginative works | Carl Schmitt: The Vision of Beauty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s