Ferdinand Schmutzer Biography

Ferdinand Schmutzer




Printmaker, painter, and photographer Ferdinand Schmutzer was born in Vienna, Austria, on May 21, 1870 into a family of artists including father Ferdinand, a sculptor, and grandfather Jacob Matthias Schmutzer, founder of the Imperial Academy of Engraving. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, initally studying sculpture and painting under Professors Rumpler and Trinckwald. Such was the critical acclaim of his work that in 1894 he was awarded the prestigous Rome Prize, a two-year scholarship that allowed him to study in the Netherlands. It was there that his artistic career took a new trajectory in both style and medium: upon discovering the work of Rembrandt, he abandoned the Romantic genre he currently worked in to devote himself to the Dutch Golden Age style, taken by the deeply contrasting studies of light and shadow by Dutch masters. Additionally, he discovered Rembrandt's prints, and while altering his painting style he began to pursue etching - the medium which would soon become his primary interest. Schmutzer would then go on to study under William Unger, eventually succeeding the master printmaker as director of the School for Graphic Arts at the Academy.

While living in Holland, Schmutzer utilized a camera - at the time a relatively new and controversial artistic medium - to capture the moments and landscapes that he would later render on on the plate. Interestingly, despite his keen understanding of photography and natural talent for the medium, he never considered it anything more than a tool for improving his etchings, and he kept this work from the public save for commissioned portraits of Austrian royalty, luminaries such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, and other notable public figures.

In 1901 Schmutzer became a member of Vienna Secession, acting as president from 1914 to 1917. In 1908 he took a position as a teacher at the Academy, where from 1922 to 1924 he was elected as director. He taught printmaking as well as photography - again, as a tool rather than an art form. Schmutzer was the first printmaker to work with oversized plates and was known in particular for a 33-1/2" x 48-1/2" etching titled "Das Joachim-Quartett" (1904).

Schmutzer would exhibit throughout Europe, including in Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Italy. He was known for printing his own work and using a motorized press, which, according to a story on the artist in The Studio magazine, vol. 43, pg. 193, "...leaves his two hands free to aid his mind." Schmutzer died in Vienna in 1928.

It wasn't until 2001 that Schmutzer's photographic oeuvre was discovered in a Viennese attic, with upwards of 3,000 glass plate negatives and 330 developed photographs. It was then noted that much of his his photography, in itself artistically rendered, was used as a direct reference for the etchings that are now celebrated for the precise tonality of light and shadow he rendered on the plate. The entire collection of photographs and negatives was purchased by the Austrian National Library in 2003. Curators Regina Maria Anzenberger and Uwe Schoegl then held two major exhibitions of Schmutzer's work to bring his photogaphy to the art world: at the Ping Yao photography festival in China in 2004 and the Naarden photography festival in the Netherlands in 2005. Books have since been written on these works.

Schmutzer's prints and photographs are held in collections througout the world, including the British Museum, London; Rijksmuseum, Netherlands; Glasgow Museums, Scotland;
the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Brooklyn Museum, NY; the Minneapolis Institute of Art, MN; McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture, TN; the Detroit Institute of Arts, MI; and the Seattle Art Museum, WA, among others.