Thursday, 8 March 2012

Studio Schmutzer (1/3)

After an initial discussion with a certain and prominent writer on Modern Printmaking concerning the suggestion of possible use of early photography in printmaking my rainy day research leading today to the Viennese studio of Ferdinand Schmutzer.
Ferdinand Schmutzer
 painter, etcher, printmaker, sculptor, professor, portraitist,
and able early photographer
(left etching, right photo)

was a contemporary and acquaintance of turn-of-the-century celebrities like Albert Einstein, psychoanalyst and shrink Sigmund Freud, composer Richard Strauss, cellist Pablo Casals, violinist Josef Joachim and many others including royalties. He and his wife Alice, né Schnabel, entertained in Villa Schmutzer in the Stenwartestrasse and Schmutzer portrayed them all. Their home the centre of intellectual, literary, musical and artistic life in Vienna.

Viewed in the context of printmaking Schmutzer, appointed professor in the Vienna Kunst Akadamie in 1908, was teacher to Norbertine Bresslern-Roth (1891-1978). Besides world famous for her woodblock animal prints she is less known for creating other work like her self-portrait (left) and this pastoral reclining Diana in her unmistakingly style. Besides she was a very couragious woman defying Nazi intimidations  because of her husband having a Jewish mother. 
See here* for some excelent references and biography of Norbertine Bresslern-Roth.   

Not long ago, in the former residence of the Schmutzers in Vienna, an unexpected treasure was discovered. Thousands of photo's and glass-negatives giving a rare insight in the creative use of early photography. Among them a great many portraits of important and famous people and intimate views in their world, house and studio. Like early photographer and painter George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) in Amsterdam and likewise Anders Zorn (1860-1920) in Sweden, Schmutzer understood and put to use the immens possibillities of early photography when in the hands of a creative and skilled artist. 
From different sources and locations I scratched together examples showing there is no distinct dividing line between artistic photography and other forms of art since the invention of capturing  lasting images on glass or paper.
Artist like Rudolf van Alt (1812-1905), great painter in the footsteps of his father, could only have dreamed about such possibilities he and his father had to do without. Here are two equally phenomenal portraits by Schmutzer of a monumental man in his late eighties (1898), the etching  (left) made with the help of the mirrored photo negative (right).   
Note this etched portrait is hanging on the wall in Schmutzers studio in front of the model. Note also the notched cord hanging next to the standing model. A simple yet effective scaling device. But as you can see Schmutzer did not use the cord (it's strapped-up!) but instead he used  the actual photograph for his etching (of which I sadly couldn't find a better image). Schmutzer, the sculptor, pioneer in the world of etching revival became engaged after seeing Rembrandt's etchings while visiting the Netherlands in 1894-96. He was also the first creating etchings in a large, not used before format and inventing and using new tools and instruments. The photographic negative glass plate one of them. 

Artists had dreamed of such possibillities since Leonardo’s times and did Ferdinand Schmutzer made great use. As a photographer Schmutzer belongs in the same league as Alfred Steiglitz and Edward Steichen. I will show in next episode that it is extremely difficult to avoid work created with "the help of" photonegative glass plates becoming dull and mere amateuristic tracings. A pitfall to many artists who tried.

L: A 1894 build German Dressler camera, the year young Ferdinand (24) started his photographic career. 

All pictures are mouse-clickable
To be continued soon

The Schmutzer photo treasure is published:  Ferdinand Schmutzer,  Das photographische Werk 1894-1928  ISBN 978-3-9812344-1-1


  1. Gerrie - Schmutzer is a really important artist who seems to have been almost forgotten. And the discovery of his photographic work just shows how in tune with the moment he was. Great post.

  2. I had to stumble over Schmutzers etchings, having met many etchers and printmakers during my internet excavations, then saw your and Clive's tributes. It's through the photos he recently again is receiving more attention, although his etched portraits and his skills are great. There's as much Rembrandt legacy in Schmutzer as in Brangwyn I think. Also in his photo's which he turns into etched marvels. It's a pity the book on his photo's is rather expensive, but some 600 are online from the Austrian Museum. Thanks!