Thursday, August 03, 2006


Harold von Schmidt was an excellent 20th century illustrator who doesn't seem to get much attention these days. He did superb work, but he tends to be overshadowed by more flashy illustrators. That's why I was delighted when our friend Irene Gallo from The Art Department spread the word that the Illustration House Gallery in New York is having the first major exhibit of von Schmidt's work in decades. The catalog is rich with work by a brilliant artist in his prime.

One of my favorites is this painting of stampeding horses at night. Look at how the entire painting is transformed by the upturned rump of one single horse silhouetted against the flames. The freedom and abandon of that wild flicking tail is absolutely contagious. It is strategically placed and perfectly framed to convey pandemonium throughout the picture.

I have never seen a more effective horse's ass. More fire, more explosions, more horse tails would only have subtracted from the power of this picture.

Later in the show, von Schmidt uses the same high contrast device to create the focal point of another compelling painting. This time, the entire picture is beautifully and expertly calibrated to focus on the threat of a mountain lion.

A lesser talent would have placed a large, snarling mountain lion squarely in the foreground.

These paintings are the work of a master painter in full control of what he is doing. He doesn't hyperventilate. He doesn't over react. Robert Fawcett once wrote that

[an excellent picture is] much more likely to be characterized by the restraint of self-confidence. The artist who has resources does not need to announce this fact from the housetops-- it will be apparent.
I wish I shared Fawcett's confidence that true quality will be apparent to the public. As some readers suggested in the previous post, we often seem to be going through an epidemic of bad taste. However, every once in a while it's a real pleasure to be in the presence of mature talent like von Schmidt's.


Painter X said...

Okay, I'll be the first to comment.

One of the things I appreciate the most about the Golden Age Illustrators, von Schmidt being one, is how they were masters of composition, especially with multiple figures (in this case animals) in a scene. Most fine art painters can't do it very well at all. Their work looks forced. Also, what energy this guy can convey! Lots to appreciate.

Another fine post, David!

Hilus Anendorf said...

Notice an "echo" of the horse in the group of men against the fire, to the right of the picture. Nice.

adebanji said...