On This Day: February 20, 1914—”A slender, athletic girl with shy brown almond-shaped eyes”

Gertrude Lord and Elizabeth Gardiner dancing - CROPPED

Gertrude Lord (left) and Elizabeth Gardiner dancing, a photograph taken on the night of the Beaux-Arts ball.

The New York Times called it “by far the most brilliant and artistic event of the Winter social season,” the New York Press, “the most elaborate spectacle of its kind New York has ever seen.”  It was the first annual Ball of the Fine Arts, given by the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects and held at the glittering ballroom of the Hotel Astor in Times Square.

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The ballroom at the Hotel Astor, around the time of the Beaux-Arts ball.

The guests at the costume ball  included, in the words of one report, “some the most beautiful women and the undisputed social leaders of the city”: Mesdames Stuyvesant Fish, Peter Cooper Hewitt, Oliver Harriman, and Otto H. Kahn. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt came to the ball only after being seen at the Metropolitan Opera where, according to the Herald, “that tragic tale of ‘Manon Lescaut’ in the musical setting of Mr. Puccini” was being performed with “Mr. Caruso in the title role.”

NYT March 1 1914

Scenes from the ball captured in the New York Times, March 1, 1914.

The evening’s entertainment, “Venice Through the Ages,” was a three-part extravaganza illustrating the progression of Venetian civilization from the backwardness of the “Dark Ages” to the glory of the Renaissance.  Gertrude Lord, then 23, took part in the most elaborate portion of evening, the Dance of the Months, with her friend Elizabeth Gardiner.

An early suitor of Gertrude’s recalled his first meeting with her at a soiree in Silvermine in 1915: “A slender, athletic girl… with shy brown almond-shaped eyes in whose depths lay an affectionate smile.  As she turned to some other guests, he noticed her soft, chestnut hair, her straight, warm mouth and the gentle way she carried herself.”  Sitting next to her older sister Marguerite, he had watched her dancing the evening before, where “she wore the usual white chiffons, danced with the usual grace and was applauded with the customary courtesy.”

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Gertrude and her friends dancing in Silvermine.

Gertrude was instructed in dance during her summers in Silvermine  by Caroline Caffin, wife of New York art critic Charles Caffin. Caffin, a protege of modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan, specialized in “interpretive dance” which sought to portray stories or music through the graceful movements of the dance.

Gertrude earned a place in the dance roster at the ball as her father, Austin W. Lord, was a charter member and past president of the Society.  The professional group had its origins in the busy social scene surrounding the famed Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Lord had been a student twenty-five years earlier.

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Carl Schmitt, Gertrude Dancing, February 1917, pastel on paper, 13 x 10 in.

Though Gertrude’s days of glittering ballrooms, elaborate tableaux, and dances on the lawn ended upon marriage to Carl Schmitt, her calm grace continued to capture the artist’s eye for the next 65 years.

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Gertrude, c. 1970, oil on canvas, unfinished, 30 x 25 in.

“Just look at it!”: Gertrude Reading

A guest post by Jacob A. Schmitt

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Gertrude Reading, oil on canvas, 48 x 40 in.
According to family lore, Gertrude, over the months that she sat for this portrait, would alter this dress to accommodate her advancing pregnancy. Toward the end, the dress could not be let out any further, and the painting was left unfinished.

This is a wonderful portrait of the artist’s wife, Gertrude.  A gracious, lyrical femininity is seen in the dignified movement of the pose and the basic forms of the flowing dress, the upper body, arms, and head.  This is enhanced by the tilt of the head repeated in the poised wrist and contrasted by the repose of the right arm—a superb sense of a balance of rhythmic lyricism.

Gertrude Sitting and Reading - pen and ink sketch

A more informal picture of Gertrude reading, a pen and ink sketch from 1926.

At the same time—and this is Schmitt’s first picture that offers this technique—the whole picture is united by a conical-triangular shape formed from the flowing dress at the base, through the dignified rectangular form of the body capped by the dark hair. Hence, there is movement within solidity, but with delicacy, balance, and poise.

CSF11101 - detail of head

Compared to earlier portraits, one sees a refinement in the handling of light falling upon the upper face, shoulders, and arms.  The viewer’s eye is moved and focuses more clearly on the central aspect of Gertrude’s concentration by the technique of a more refined sculpting and modeling of the head and shoulders.  Along with this modeling, a solidity of form is achieved by the manner in which light is used in the background and how it falls on the figure.

This painting, seriously damaged in a fire in the summer of 2012, was recently restored to its original beauty and now graces the home of one of Carl Schmitt’s grandsons in Massachusetts.