Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Adaptive Artists: Harold Von Schmidt

Some illustrators flash in the pan. Others can sustain a distinctive style for a decade or longer provided that style is in synch with the times.

David Apatoff has this post dealing with Henry Raleigh who made beautiful drawings that fit well with the 1920s high society zeitgeist and even worked for a while in the early 1930s. But the mode changed from drawing to splashy watercolors and then to solidly painted images. Raleigh's commissions dried up and he finally chose to kill himself.

His is clearly an extreme case of failure to adapt. So which illustrators took another path and had the knowledge and skills to preserve their careers by changing with the stylistic times? That's what this new Art Contrarian feature will consider. The plan is to present an early and a later illustration showing the selected illustrator's versatility; in some cases, additional images might be needed.

We begin with Harold Von Schmidt (1893-1982) who pursued a long career and made adjustments to maintain his pace. I should note that these adjustments were not as extreme as some that will be presented in later posts, despite the impression the illustrations below might suggest. Von Schmidt also protected his career by specializing in Western art, a perennial with a smallish, but devoted market.

A useful biographical sketch of Von Schmidt is here.

I'm not sure how long Von Schmidt worked in this style. It seems to date from the late 1920s, and he had moved on during the 30s.

Not a Western scene; this deals with the Korean War of the early 1950s. The differences in media and technique are almost as obvious as the contrasting subject matter.


dearieme said...

My golly, that first one is a cracker. It's not just the curves - of her, the furniture legs, the table top, the chaise, the curtain - it's the use of the glowing brown of furniture and hair, and, above all, the eye-catching orange.

By contrast, the second one is a bugger's muddle - I don't know what story it's telling, and my eye alights nowhere in particular.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks for this, Don. I think HVS was a great illustrator who is unfortunately neglected these days. If some art dealer got behind him and pushed him the way that Frank Schoonover or Dean Cornwell have been pushed, he would be far better known and his work would be selling today for 5 times what it currently brings.

He was too much of a tough old cowpoke to commit suicide the way that Raleigh did, but he lived long enough to see the Famous Artists School (which he helped to found and which he was counting on for his retirement) collapse because of sharp dealings by some accountants. Ancient and battered, he hauled himself back to the easel in an effort to paint his way out of the financial catastrophe they caused for him and for other founding members.

Donald Pittenger said...

dearieme -- Actually, I like both illustrations. The second one resonates because I spent the better part of a year in Korea while in the army and the country gets its winters via Siberia.

David -- Interesting about the Famous Artists School. I never knew that it hit the wall in the way you mention ... to me it just sorta dropped out of sight for a while. Is there a reference regarding this? Wikipedia, for instance, doesn't mention it.

David Apatoff said...

Don, this is one area where being a lawyer is helpful. I know the lawyer who represented the FAS in bankruptcy proceedings. The original Famous Artists (especially Albert Dorne) built the school into a huge international success (remember, they also branched out into famous photographers, cartoonists and writers, etc.) The school became so big and time consuming that the artists turned the operations over to professional corporate types-- a CEO, a CFO, etc. who over extended the school and played accounting games to make their performance look better than it was. For example, when they sold a class to a student, they recognized all of the revenue for the full class on their books, despite the fact that many students would drop out before the end of the class.

Soon the bottom dropped out, and artists such as HVS who had everything tied up in their ownership interest took a terrible beating.

Donald Pittenger said...

David -- Ah, but you do have connections!

Thank you for the background info. Booking partial sales as completed happens all too often when things start to slide.

Too bad Schmidt put all or most of his eggs in that one basket; should have known to diversify his assets.

J Kupferberg said...

Insightful post, Don. Perhaps you might expand on it - in Von Schmidt's case, about the road not taken. Heritage Auctions recently featured an outstanding masterpiece of a Roaring Twenties scene by Harold Von Schmidt, entitled "Roulette" (1928. The smoky atmospheric texture of the scene, with gamblers and flappers looking on - Von Schmidt really captured the carefree, boozy spirit of the Roaring Twenties in that one.

And yet Von Schmidt is known as a painter of epic Western scenes (for instance, his famous Custer battle painting).

On the subject of adaptation, Von Schmidt's masterpiece, "Roulette," could have easily set him up as the premier visual interpreter of the Roaring Twenties era.

I just wonder if he had more paintings with this kind of subject matter...