Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Quiet reflections: the etchings of Ferdinand Schmutzer

The painter, printmaker, and photographer Ferdinand Schmutzer is little-known today, yet his work, which focuses on moments of quiet thought and reflection, has a rare intimacy.

Ferdinand Schmutzer, Tagesneuigkeiten (The Day's News)
Etching, 1908

Even when he depicts a crowd scene, as in his etching of poor citizens of Vienna crowding in a soup line outside a monastery or convent, there is no sense of jostling or hubbub; instead one senses the silent resignation of people too tired to make much noise. This etching, the smaller of two versions of the same scene, is my favourite among the five etchings I possess by Ferdinand Schmutzer. It shows him able to tackle a really complex composition with great finesse, and it also beautifully demonstrates Schmutzer's mastery of light effects. I can't put it better than Clive, who writes in his Art and the Aesthete post on Schmutzer, "He has unusual skill in balancing the plain darks and lights with delicately fretted greys."

Ferdinand Schmutzer, Die "kleine" Klöstersuppe (The "little' Free Soup)
Etching, 1907

Schmutzer came from an artistic family. He was the son of the animal sculptor Ferdinand Schmutzer, and grandson of the sculptor Vincent Schmutzer. His great-grandfather Jacob Mathäus Schmutzer founded the Imperial Academy of Engraving, which mutated into the current Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, where Ferdinand Schmutzer studied sculpture under Kuhne and etching under William Unger (winning the Prix National in 1894).

Ferdinand Schmutzer, Entdecktes Geheimniss (The Secret Discovered)
Etching, 1897

Ferdinand Schmutzer was himself appointed as a Professor at the Vienna Academy in 1908. He was a member of the Vienna Secession from 1901, and President 1914-1917. He was born, lived, and died in Vienna. He was an important figure in the artistic and cultural life of the city before and after the Great War, and was associated with Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Richard Strauss, and Arthur Schnitzler.

Ferdinand Schmutzer, Antwerpen (Antwerp)
Etching, 1915

Besides genre scenes such as my first three etchings, Ferdinand Schmutzer also produced elegant landscapes and cityscapes, in a style that shows the influence of German Impressionists such as Leopold von Kalckreuth and Paul Baum.

Ferdinand Schmutzer, Blick auf die Kirche von Dürnstein (View of Dürnstein church)
Etching, 1921

Ferdinand Schmutzer produced around 300 etchings, which have been catalogued by Arpad Weixlgärtner in Das radierte Werk von Ferdinand Schmutzer, 1922. He also left more than 3000 glass plate photographs, an important part of his artistic legacy that has only recently been uncovered. Like his etchings, Schmutzer's photographs are highly sensitive to the play of light and shade


bibble said...

A nicely researched piece Neil. There is a LOT to the works of Schmutzer, and I have been seeing his works a lot lately and I am wondering if he is on the cusp of resdiscovery. I think it is generally thought that Schmutzer was one of the finest of the European etchers in his day, and yet his reputation hasn't survived. I also think the glass photographs were the source of much of his etching inspiration. I think it is a topic to be researched, because I don't think Schmutzer was the only one to have gone down that road.

Neil said...

Thanks, Clive. I haven't seen enough of Schmutzer's photographs to know how they interrelate with the etchings. He certainly seems to have used them as reference for portraits, and it seems likely this would have extended to other subjects. But I also get the feeling he saw photography as an independent art form. He may have been cautious about being identified as a photographer, though, as that might have had negative implications for the way his art was viewed at the time.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Outstanding etchings. What a delicate, pencil-like touch he has in the Antwerp view and the landscape.

Neil said...

He did indeed have a delicate touch - which has probably been his downfall in art historical terms, because first the Symbolists and then the Expressionists took Germanic art into a much bolder and more strident aesthetic. Not that he was behind the times, but perhaps not quite in tune with them. At least in retrospect, if that makes sense.

Roxana said...

when i read about his art of balancing "plain darks and lights with delicately fretted greys", i immediately thought that he would have made a wonderful photographer, and then arriving at the end of the post and reading the comments, i see he indeed was one. i will check his photos, i am very curious, i hope i can find some on the internet.

Neil said...

Roxana - I haven't found many of Schmutzer's photos on the net - they are quite a recent discovery, so I suspect they are being kept a bit under wraps while a book is prepared. The very evocative description of his "delicately fretted greys" is of course Clive's not mine.