“It’s difficult to imagine anyone having a clearer idea of his calling in life than Carl Schmitt.”
“While many of the boys I went to art school with have become famous, I have turned my back upon the popular styles in an honest attempt to do something toward keeping our heritage of the Fine Arts alive.” (1959)
Until now, you have read short “tweets” of Carl Schmitt’s thoughts on this blog. Now, the CSF is pleased to announce the publication of the unfiltered Carl Schmitt in a new collection of his writings, The Conscience of Beauty.
The Conscience of Beauty collects over seventy of Schmitt’s essays, most appearing now for the first time. With a foreword by the artist’s son Jacob, and edited and introduced by CSF director Samuel Schmitt, this 222-page volume can be binge-read in an evening, or taken up from time to time as a leisurely formation in the conscience of beauty.
Schmitt wryly observes in the first essay that when the artist puts down his brushes to speak, “his muse is displeased at the digression” and “he is perilously close to talking rubbish.” But this collection reveals a man whose words on paper are at least as remarkable as his work on canvas.
The man who can both paint and write without displeasing his muse is rarely found, but to live and paint and write is given only to the few.In these short essays Schmitt has gathered and distilled the fruits of his contemplation over a long lifetime. Alongside practical advice on getting through the dull times of life and helpful observations on the good of squabbling siblings stand sharp fragments on the uttermost reaches of the four last things and piercing, prophetic critiques of our times. As his grandson and namesake Carl F. Schmitt recalls, he understood reality in a way that “lay between, and always accounted for, both the particular and the general, the small and the large, the individual and the collective, the material and the spiritual, the natural and the divine. The scale of his approach was relentlessly human, participating in both the mundane and the glorious.”
Click on the image below to order your copy. You can see a preview here.
The book makes a wonderful gift for Christmas!
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.’”
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.
Carl Schmitt’s one-man show at the prestigious Philadelphia Art Alliance in March, 1930, came at a crossroads in his career. At the time the artist was moving away from his signature “tapestry” style into more religious and “mystical” themes. Many of the paintings display an experimental, even unsure hand, venturing into imaginative realms not explored by the artist before and rarely visited in later work. This bold move, while attracting favorable critical attention, followed the old pattern and did not help his lackluster sales, but demonstrates once again Schmitt’s commitment to the demands of his art in the face of economic pressures. Of course, the recent market crash made misers of even the wealthiest patrons, and the show failed to yield a single sale, although a few of the paintings would find buyers in the subsequent months. (Some remain lost to this day.)
The following two reviews are typical of the ones Schmitt received in this period. The critics are clearly fascinated with his work. Here is a painter they can’t quite pin down: is he a realist or idealist? Traditionalist or individualist? His approach is decidedly contemporary, yet he seems impervious to any particular modern influence. While many pointed to the old Italian masters as the main source of his inspiration, others identify Byzantine art or peasant and primitive influences. The headline to one review neatly summed up the critics’ response: “Old but New.”
While noting his use of color, his unusual imagination, and the lively rhythm and patterns in his canvasses, the critics fail to put their finger on Schmitt’s overall purpose and approach. At a basic level, they confess confusion with Schmitt’s claim to be a “realist” when so many of his works strike the eye as purely imaginative, even fanciful. One critic came near to Schmitt’s understanding when he described him as a painter who uses “the language of the inner eye.” Schmitt explained himself to the critics: “Several people have complained that they cannot understand my pictures and have asked if I would explain them. This lack of understanding never fails to surprise me, as I try to paint only what I see as exactly and clearly as possible. I think pictures are meant to be looked at. If there is a secret—the eye must comprehend it.”
“In the members’ room of the Art Alliance hangs a small collection of paintings by Carl Schmitt, an artist with a distinctly individualistic manner of looking at things. Mr. Schmitt’s own theory regarding his methods is: “I try to paint only what I see as exactly and as clearly as possible.” This sounds like the creed of a confirmed realist, but this artist is nothing of the sort. He is an idealist with a peculiar sense of color, given to religious subjects and apparently influenced by early Italian art.
“His pictures at the Art Alliance are mostly religious in subject matter. His ‘Trinity: Decoration‘—why ‘Trinity’ when apparently it represents only the Second Person, on the cross surrounded by angels—is almost Byzantine in feeling and very ornamental. In it the color scheme is restrained, harmonious and satisfactory. In others of his sacred group he contrasts magenta and light green in a way to put one’s teeth on edge.
“His ‘Picnic’ differs entirely from these other pictures. In it he shows a very modern group dining al fresco against a highly conventionalized landscape background, the general treatment reminding one of a modernized Botticelli. The whole is very amusing and effective, a joyous little canvas.”
—”Individualism of Carl Schmitt,” Philadelphia Record, March 2, 1930
“The art of Carl Schmitt, as seen in his one-man show at the Art Alliance, is the vivid expression of a highly individual and imaginative personality.
“Only one of the compositions, a small portrait sketch, is primarily realistic. The emotional tempo of the artist seeks rather the realm of pure fancy, developing unusual color combinations and richly decorative compositions not unlike, in pigmental and design emphasis, the peasant art expressions of primitive peoples.
“Schmitt covers every inch of space with color and design interest. He is especially sensitive to colors. In one composition which he titles ‘Gethsemane’ the moving folds of robes, of hills and sky are further intensified by the weird olive green and greenish-yellow pigmentation.
“Something of the design quality of peasant embroidery enters into the colors and pattern weaving of a highly imaginative Crucifixion, while, in the various imaginative compositions based upon the theme of the Annunciation, Schmitt combines the unusual in pigmentation with a certain basic purity of conception, lending to the figures portrayed the charm of the naïve.
“Those who consider Carl Schmitt’s art from an unrealistic viewpoint will find it eccentric. His figures often give the impression of brownish jointed wooden dolls. As figures they are disappointing, but when considered as part of a larger rhythm, part of a moving pattern, they achieve a fuller meaning.
“The charm of Schmitt’s art lies in the richness of his imagination, its design quality, and its individual choice of pigments. Coupled with this is an emotional reaction that never sinks to the level of the decadent.”
—Christian Science Monitor, March 15, 1930