“Just look at it!”: Woman and Guardian Angel (1925)

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).”

CSF12311 - detail of angel's head

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.

CSF12311 - detail of woman's head

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.

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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.

Fine Arts on Fridays—The arts of vision

“To recapitulate: There are three arts of Being (Fine Arts of Vision, permanent symbols of eternity)
Sculpture
Architecture
Painting
There are four Fine Arts of Expression (symbols of time-eternity)
Dance, Drama
Music, Literature”
(1964)

Among the seven fine arts enumerated by Carl Schmitt, Painting, Architecture and Sculpture form a natural triad.  Unlike the other fine arts (Music, Literature, Dance, and Drama (acting)), these three exist as permanent, visible realities.  Often called the “plastic arts,” they are “performed usually but once in some permanent material with the object of ensuring the life of the performance beyond that of the life-span of one man.”

CSF11004 - NEW

Self-Portrait, c. 1965, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.

The other four arts, by contrast, are not embodied in permanent material form and cannot be experienced all at once; rather, “time is the basic medium.”  Schmitt named the respective groups “statuary” and “kinetic,” “visual-tactile” and “audio-visual,” or “permanent arts” and “time arts.”

Delving more deeply, Schmitt saw the three permanent arts as arts of “being” as opposed to “expression.”  By this he did not mean that Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture were not “expressive” in the sense of conveying some meaning to the viewer, but that this meaning was precisely bound up with being.

CSF11304

Gertrude with Violin, oil on canvas, c. 1946, 25 x 30 in.

As Schmitt himself wrote: “The common person in looking for vision or appearance or likeness in a picture rather than expression, is in the main right.  For the ‘visio-tactile’ (painting, sculpture, architecture) are primarily arts of vision and incidentally of expression, whereas the ‘audio-visual arts’ (music. literature, dance, acting) are primarily arts of expression.”  He goes on to explain that in the four expressive arts “vision is a goal,” whereas with the arts of being, vision is “the atmosphere of their being.”

CSF14000

Palace of Septimius Severus, oil on canvas, c. 1948, 30 x 25 in.
A view of the ruins of the emperor’s palace from the Roman Forum, based on sketches done by the artist in the 1930s.

By the “being” of these arts, Schmitt is referring to their existence as permanent forms.  It is precisely their permanence that expresses—Schmitt would say “symbolizes”—in a fundamental way, “eternity.”  The four “time arts” for their part, symbolize what he calls “time-eternity,” or eternal values as they are experienced in time.

Schmitt referred to this contrast between the two kinds of arts the “paradox of the symbol”—“the permanent aesthetic reality within the symbol.”  As Schmitt explains: “All great philosophy, all poetry, all great music is paradoxical because Reality is dynamic.  When expressed in space-time (that is, in tone and word)”—in the time arts—“the paradox is only in process of being resolved. In the plastic arts, on the other hand, there is no paradox in a major work of those fine arts because these arts (Painting, Sculpture, Architecture) reside completely in material Being—that is, in that faculty of the artist in which the paradox has been resolved.”

CSF44000

Head in marble, c. 1924.
Carl Schmitt’s only finished work of sculpture.

It is this “faculty of the artist” which grasps the “vision”—the end or object of the fine arts.  We will explore this vision as expressed in each of the fine arts in future posts.

Originally posted October 1, 2013 as Thinking in Threes: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture.

Thinking in Threes: Painting, Architecture, Sculpture

Among the seven fine arts enumerated by Carl Schmitt, Painting, Architecture and Sculpture form a natural triad.  Unlike the other fine arts (Music, Literature, Dance, and Drama (acting)), these three exist as permanent, visible realities.  Often called the “plastic arts,” they are “performed usually but once in some permanent material with the object of ensuring the life of the performance beyond that of the life-span of one man.”

CSF11004 - NEW

Self-Portrait, c. 1965, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.

The other four arts, by contrast, are not embodied in permanent material form and cannot be experienced all at once; rather, “time is the basic medium.”  Schmitt named the respective groups “statuary” and “kinetic,” “visual-tactile” and “audio-visual,” or “permanent arts” and “time arts.”

Delving more deeply, Schmitt saw the three permanent arts as arts of “being” as opposed to “expression.”  By this he did not mean that Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture were not “expressive” in the sense of conveying some meaning to the viewer, but that this meaning was precisely bound up with being.

CSF11304

Gertrude with Violin, oil on canvas, c. 1946, 25 x 30 in.

As Schmitt himself wrote: “The common person in looking for vision or appearance or likeness in a picture rather than expression, is in the main right.  For the ‘visio-tactile’ (painting, sculpture, architecture) are primarily arts of vision and incidentally of expression, whereas the ‘audio-visual arts’ (music. literature, dance, acting) are primarily arts of expression.”  He goes on to explain that in the four expressive arts “vision is a goal,” whereas with the arts of being vision is “the atmosphere of their being.”

CSF14000

Palace of Septimius Severus, oil on canvas, c. 1948, 30 x 25 in.
A view of the ruins of the emperor’s palace from the Roman Forum, based on sketches done by the artist in the 1930s.

By the “being” of these arts, Schmitt is referring to their existence as permanent forms.  It is precisely their permanence that expresses—Schmitt would say “symbolizes”—in a fundamental way, “eternity.”  The four “time arts” for their part, symbolize what he calls “time-eternity,” or eternal values as they are experienced in time.

Schmitt referred to this contrast between the two kinds of arts the “paradox of the symbol”—“the permanent aesthetic reality within the symbol.”  As Schmitt explains: “All great philosophy, all poetry, all great music is paradoxical because Reality is dynamic.  When expressed in space-time (that is, in tone and word)”—in the time arts—“the paradox is only in process of being resolved. In the plastic arts, on the other hand, there is no paradox in a major work of those fine arts because these arts (Painting, Sculpture, Architecture) reside completely in material Being—that is, in that faculty of the artist in which the paradox has been resolved.”

CSF44000

Head in marble, c. 1924.
Carl Schmitt’s only finished work of sculpture.

It is this “faculty of the artist” which grasps the “vision”—the end or object of the fine arts.  We will explore this vision as expressed in each of the fine arts in future posts.

Thinking in threes: Criticism

In the context of artistic creation, the means spoken of last week—catastrophe, humiliation, poverty—take on a particular hue. In the life of an artist these realities need not reveal themselves in a sudden or dramatic way.  Indeed in Schmitt’s view an artist aiming above the mediocre will consciously choose these as the necessary conditions for the creation of significant and mature works of art.

Schmitt develops this idea in his essay “The Critic,” written in 1943.  Although Schmitt, like most artists, was impatient with professional art critics, he nevertheless saw a valuable role for criticism in the arts, provided the concept was properly understood.

Criticism or “destruction” has an indispensable role in the process of artistic creation, or as Schmitt would put it, the revealing or discovery of form.   “It must be recalled to mind, especially today when Form is almost unknown (Form in its metaphysical—Form in its aesthetic sense) that true Form cannot be rediscovered except by means of destruction.  There is absolutely no Form (in the purest sense of the word) possible unless it is discovered by sacrifice and death.”

Schmitt points to the art of sculpture as the most perfect analogue of this process of criticism.  “In sculpture this is so obvious that one would think that the symbolism of Redemption would escape no one—a lump of stone, a chisel, and a hammer (in the hands of a critic).  Those are the materials necessary for creation.”  In sculpture the form is produced precisely through destruction, that is, through the chiseling away of all excess material to reveal the work of art.

CSF44000

Carl Schmitt, Head, marble, c. 1924

Before the sculptor can work at the marble, however, he must first turn the chisel on himself: the sculptor will only tear away and reveal as much in the marble as he has done so in himself, in his own personality.  What makes the sculpture of a great artist like Michelangelo so great?  “Something intangible which lives in every atom of the marble: the personality of the master.  For personality is the result of honest self-criticism.  We feel that Michelangelo had already laid the chisel to his own soul before attacking the marble.”

Thus the artist will embrace his personal “catastrophe,” the self-criticism necessary to reveal the form of what he is depicting in his art.  “As far as the world is concerned a Christian artist should know that his work must be only one-half successful,” Schmitt wrote in 1930. “As for his life—that should, of course, be a total failure to be perfect.”

Schmitt’s essay “The Critic” can be found on the Carl Schmitt Foundation website.