Wisdom on Wednesdays—To be alive


Gertrude in Riding Uniform, 1942, oil on canvas, 32 x 19 in.
The artist’s ten-year-old daughter in the uniform of the New Canaan Mounted Troop.

“Reality is the keynote to life and art.  To be aware of reality—to be awake, is to be alive.”
(c. 1930)


Woman and Guardian Angel: Sculpture “in the lowest relief”

CSF12311 - Woman and Guardian Angel

Woman and Guardian Angel, 1925, oil on canvas on board, 30 x 25 in.

This warm and inviting painting, one of the most beguiling of Carl Schmitt’s “tapestry” style, was the result of many months of toil in the cold winter of 1924-25.  Schmitt first mentions it his journal in early November, when he was busy at what would become one of his largest works, the mural Nativity, measuring 10 by 6 feet.  The two works now hang side by side in the Foundation’s studio-gallery in Silvermine.

After announcing “Good-bye to studio ’till 1925” on December 23, Schmitt was back at it three days after Christmas.  By the end of the month conditions were becoming desperate: “Slept rather cold in the studio last night.  I had three bathrobes and two overcoats over me. I found the bottle of milk frozen (which was by the bed) this morning.  I kept the fire roaring and worked continuously on the Guardian Angel all day.”  A week into the new year saw a milestone of sorts: “I worked on the ‘Woman and Angel’ and completed it (at least for the time being).”

Of course, the artist worked the painting over in the next few weeks, and in fact considered it only in its first stages.  “I swung the ‘Woman and Angel’ into the beginning of a picture today,” he reported on January 9.  Schmitt goes on to reveal the fruit of his long labors, both with the brush and in thought.  “I am slowly learning the place of form in painting.  Sculpture is prefigured only in painting.…cf. Cezanne at the end of his labor: ‘Painting is not sculpture.’ One might add ‘But it prefigures it, apprehends it in the lowest relief.’”

2013 Open House - admiring new painting

A friend of the CSF admires Woman and Guardian Angel, one of three works given to the Foundation in 2013.  It is shown here in a frame by Carl’s brother Robert.  The artist’s large canvas, Nativity, done at the same time, hangs in the background.

If the great nineteenth-century painter Paul Cezanne, whom Schmitt admired for his dedication to form in painting, seemed disappointed that his art could not reach the level of sculpture, Schmitt seems determined to compensate for this loss.  One sees in this painting the solid masses and bold forms of sculpture, but with the jewel-like colors that can be realized only in paint.

The forms themselves also display a flexibility that stone or bronze could not easily withstand: witness the arm of the woman intertwined with that of the angel.  Here the demands of three-dimensional form—not to mention the anatomy of the figures—bow to the overall design of the painting.

It is not clear when the work was finally completed, since it was not exhibited in the artist’s lifetime.  In 1932, the painting was bought by John Kenneth Byard, a longtime patron and friend of Schmitt.  Byard gave it to his brother Dever, who passed it on to his son, and so on to his daughter, who gave it to the Foundation in 2013.

Woman_and_Guardian_Angel - detail of dove

This article appeared originally in the May 2014 issue of Vision, the CSF e-newsletter.  If you would like to receive Vision in your inbox, you may subscribe here.

2015 Matching Campaign a success thanks to your generosity

Thanks to many generous friends of the CSF, our 2015 Matching Campaign has been a success!  With your contributions and the generous support of a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous, we raised $9,469.20—or 95% of our $10,000 goal.

Aystin with Cello - gauze and original -CSF11201

Boy with Cello in its present condition covered with a protective gauze (left), and how we hope it will look after restoration (from an older photograph).

We plan to use a portion of the funds towards the restoration one of Schmitt’s most beloved works, Boy with Cello, a large portrait of his son Austin from the early 1930s.  The painting is is urgent need of restoration, as small chips of pain have begun to come off the surface.

We’ll keep you updated on the progress of the work, as well as other projects in the the planning stages, including matting and framing beautiful pastels now hidden away in portfolios in the CSF studio-gallery.

Thanks to all who contributed!