A guest post by Jacob A. Schmitt
Carl Schmitt’s earliest professional work was done from the time he graduated from the National Academy of Design in New York at the age of twenty-one, through to about 1914, when he left to finish his studies in Florence, Italy. Here we see the influence of his teachers at the Academy, especially the Danish-born still life master Emil Carlsen (1853-1932), whom he admired perhaps more than any other instructor.
The handling of light is the focus of this early stage. Although the quality of light appears throughout all of Schmitt’s work, here light contrasts with darkness in more traditional ways. Unlike his other paintings, these early works do not reveal his usual characteristics where rhythmic forms, lyrical design, bright colors, spatial values, and dramatic focus are constructed out of layers of various modeled and glazed colors. Instead, the painting strokes themselves create the form.
Pumpkin with Iron Pot displays Carlsen’s simplicity of flat pattern design seen in the pot and backdrop differentiated by the brilliance of light in the cloth and pieces of pumpkin. It has a quality of light similar to what Schmitt often spoke of as the genius of the eighteenth-century still-life painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, that of revealing the beauty of soft light falling on an object, especially bottles.
Perhaps this is where Schmitt learned to love the quality of old glass bottles seen in so many of his later still lifes. He obtained specimens of this glass from various shops during his travels and from foundations of old ruined houses he came upon during his walks around Silvermine. To enhance that quality of light on these bottles, he took care not to disturb the dust that would collect on them, especially after he had set them carefully in a still life arrangement. These bottles may still be found in the studio in Silvermine.
Pumpkin with Iron Pot was in the artist’s possession until the early 1980s, when it was acquired by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company as an addition to its collection of paintings and other works by Connecticut artists. In 2001, the Company gave its entire collection to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut. The museum included Schmitt’s painting in an exhibition of works from the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection the following year and featured it in its illustrated catalog, The American Artist in Connecticut.