Harold von Schmidt Biography

Harold von Schmidt




Harold von Schmidt was born in Alameda, California on May 19, 1893. Orphaned before he was 6. He went to live in San Francisco with a grandfather who had been in the gold rush of 1849 and regaled his grandson with vivid tales of the Old West. Von Schmidt began his art studies at the California School of Arts and Crafts while he was still in high school. His grandfather's stories apparently stayed in his mind when he came to New York in the 1920's, at first to study at the Grand Central School of Art with Harvey Dunn, who had been a student of Howard Pyle, the great 19th-century illustrator.

An illustrator who worked in oil, Mr. von Scmidt did most of his work for the old Saturday Evening Post, giving visible form to such fiction characters as Tug Boat Annie and Captain Horatio Hornblower. But while these and such commercial work as a series of historical paintings for the John Hancock Insurance Company would have been enough to put him in the first rank of American illustrators, it was his paintings of Western scenes for The Post and other publications that had the most influence on his younger colleagues.

Aside from their artistic worth, one reason Mr. von Schmidt's paintings are now valued so highly may be that there are so few of them. Of the thousands of works his father turned out, the artist's son said, only a few hundred remain, in part because after they had been reproduced for the magazine, the artist would routinely destroy those he did not regard as his best work. ''We use to make huts out of them,'' said Eric von Schmidt, recalling that he and his brother also used some of their father's cast-off canvasses for target practice with their 22-caliber rifle.

Eschewing offers to paint the famous Post covers, Mr. von Schmidt much preferred to work from a literary manuscript to develop the charcters, according to his son, who noted that his father always strove for far more authenticity than his editors demanded.

Mr. von Schmidt was president of the Society of Illustrators from 1938 to 1941 and had been the organization's honorary president for many years. After ill health forced him to give up painting 20 years ago, Mr. von Schmidt worked with the old Famous Artists School, which he had helped establish.

Harold von Schmidt died on June 3, 1982 in Westport, Connecticut where he had moved, after getting married, in 1927.