Philippe Smit Catalogue Launched


László Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy Untitled 1925

The Complete Works of Philippe Smit Launched

Florence Castellani is co-author, with Andreas Narzt, of The Complete Works of Philippe Smit. The following remarks were made by Ms. Castellani at a reception hosted by Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, on May 21, 2017. All those in attendance were there to celebrate the launch of this bilingual online catalogue raisonné.

Welcome ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests to Glencairn Museum. We are happy to be hosted in this prestigious place for it was originally Raymond Pitcairn’s home and he was the dear brother of Theodore.

Theodore Pitcairn played such a major role in fostering Philippe Smit’s work. And today it is the same Pitcairn family who has so generously supported this project to bring Smit’s work to a larger audience.

It is at this point that I must declare a familial interest, for it was my aunt Marijke, who was Smit’s muse and it was her husband, Theodore Pitcairn, who became Smit’s patron. I grew up surrounded by Smit’s paintings and it is therefore with great pleasure that I am able to present the fruits of this project today.

Many decades ago I first discussed with my uncle Theodore the possibility of undertaking work to promote Smit’s paintings.

Unfortunately, although my uncle was a keen supporter of this idea, the momentum for the project lapsed with his death, and it was not until five years ago that the work was renewed in earnest.

Over the years, I often wondered why Smit’s works were not more widely known and for the longest time I remained eager to bring them to a broader audience and to ensure their future.

It was a fortunate meeting with the art historian Andreas Narzt, which made it possible for this project to be finally realized. Narzt agreed to undertake a crucial role in the project, becoming the director “scientifique” of the Catalogue Raisonné online.

But in order to publish the catalogue, it was first necessary to establish a comprehensive index of all of Smit’s works. As is so often the case with artistic works, it was not easy to establish the whereabouts of Smit’s paintings and the search has spanned not just years but also several countries, including the United States, the Netherlands, and France.

Today, after five years of work, I am pleased to announce the launch of the first free bilingual (French and English) Catalogue Raisonné online. We live now in a digital age, one that makes it possible to disseminate Smit’s work to a truly global audience. In this way, the scope of the project far exceeds what we could have imagined or hoped for so many years ago. In this way, the online catalogue is not only a testament to Smit’s work but also a tribute to his patron, Theodore Pitcairn.

Theodore Pitcairn’s generous patronage was a lifeline for Smit, sustaining him over so many years and allowing him to flourish as an artist, freed entirely from commercial constraints. And yet this artistic freedom also made Smit wholly indifferent to any need to find a larger audience. Smit’s concerns were artistic and religious, not worldly in nature. In hindsight, it is perhaps not a surprise that he was not more widely known in his lifetime. However, it would be a profound mistake to allow his work to remain overlooked.

Theodore would have loved nothing more than to bring Smit’s painting to the world and I am so happy that so many of his descendants’ children, grandchildren, relatives and friends in France and elsewhere have provided such generous support for this project.

Life has made a curious looping in the story of Philippe Smit. It was Theodore Pitcairn’s support that helped Smit to lead a tranquil life without the constant struggle to find favor with art dealers and exhibitors. And yet it was this same support that inadvertently helped obscure his possible fame. But, now with their gracious sponsorship of the Catalogue Raisonné, Theodore’s children and grandchildren, relatives and friends have helped to bring Smit’s work to the audience that it truly deserves.

Above: Philippe Smit. Castle la Roche Jagu, Brittany, 1933. Pen, black ink and watercolour on paper. 5 1/8 x 8 5/16 in. (13 x 21 cm), The Lord’s New Church, Bryn Athyn, PA. Photo: Christopher Burke Studios, NY; © FdDPS

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