'A Chaser Of Masterpieces': Inside the World Of Robert Schmit

'A Chaser Of Masterpieces': Inside the World Of Robert Schmit

Legendary Parisian art dealers Robert and Nadine Schmit revolutionised the Paris art world of the 1960s with their dedication to Old Masters. In a discerning selection of works reveals a sharp eye for the great masters from Courbet to Chassériau through to Van Dongen, Dufy and Villon, while delving deeply into the oeuvre of the great precursors and masters of Impressionism: Boudin, Lépine, Renoir, Morisot, Sisley and Seurat among others.
Legendary Parisian art dealers Robert and Nadine Schmit revolutionised the Paris art world of the 1960s with their dedication to Old Masters. In a discerning selection of works reveals a sharp eye for the great masters from Courbet to Chassériau through to Van Dongen, Dufy and Villon, while delving deeply into the oeuvre of the great precursors and masters of Impressionism: Boudin, Lépine, Renoir, Morisot, Sisley and Seurat among others.

My gallery in Paris is the centre of a gigantic spider's web where I catch my flies, except that they are called Degas, Cézanne, Pissarro, Monet, Renoir...". An insatiable "chaser of masterpieces", these are the humorous words with which Robert Schmit described his profession and his passion for art in 1985 (interview with Jean Cau, Paris Match, 22 February 1985).

Robert Schmit in his gallery, 1985

Eminent specialist of 19th and 20th century painting, Robert Schmit (1920-2008) was introduced to art by a friend of his father Jean, furniture maker and dealer in Old Master paintings. After graduating from business school, nothing predestined him for a career as a gallery owner. On the contrary, as he confided in an interview with Jean-Louis Ferrier, "as a child, I hated paintings: when my teacher took me to the Louvre, I would hide behind the statues to lose her. [...] But from the age of 15 or 16, I began to be interested in the profession. (interview in Le Point, no. 662, 27 May 1985). Like his father a few years earlier, it was the art expert Paul Antonini who trained him as a gallerist.

Unlike his father, Robert Schmit attracted to Old Master painting. Very early on, he would turn to impressionist painting. He loved their use of light and their freer "…palette [which] makes the colours burst into shimmer and movement" (R. Schmit, preface to the exhibition Pour mon plaisir, 1982). Before establishing his gallery, he travelled throughout France and then the world in search of paintings, meeting collectors, intermediaries, museum directors, restorers and anyone who could help him acquire exceptional works. From 1955, the date of his marriage, onward he was accompanied in his peregrinations by his wife Nadine, née Lambiotte, who was present each step of as he was fond of saying. Granddaughter and daughter of famous collectors, she shared his quest for beauty and accompanied him on most of his trips. "What delights the thought of these peregrinations with you!" Robert Schmit had promised her when they were still only engaged.


Robert and Nadine Schmit at their wedding in 1955

In 1964 he would establish the Galerie Robert Schmit at 392-396 rue Saint-Honoré in Paris, and it would quickly become one of the most important in Paris. Commentators at the time praised this new "museum in a private gallery on three floors", one of the "…rare places where miracle could happen... [with] Degas and Monets as we usually see only in museums, sensitive and delectable Boudins, furtive and silky Fantin-Latours, [...], Sisleys and Corots in dialogue as equals with delicate Lépines or magical Redons...". The critics hailed the masterly exhibitions organised there, where all the greatest names in impressionist and modern art were to be found, from Monet to Picasso, from Cézanne to Staël, "…an accumulation of masterpieces that was completely unexpected outside the official circuits" (Jean-Louis Ferrier, op. cit.). Robert Schmit established a bridge between the great masters of the second half of the 19th century, often precursors of impressionism, and the modern schools. His taste gradually became a reference in the world of international collectors with many of the paintings he featured now in the collections of museums the world over.

Robert Schmit at the opening of the exhibition Eugène Boudin at the Brême Museum in Septmber 1979

Every great gallerist is equally a great expert. The connoisseur that was Robert Schmit published several catalogues raisonnés. The first was that of Eugène Boudin, " king of skies", his favorite artist, who for him was the equal of a Pissarro or a Sisley. In fact, the first exhibition he organised in his gallery, in 1965, was entirely dedicated to this painter, and was followed by many others, in Paris and throughout the world, helping to establish the artist's international reputation. Robert Schmit also produced the catalogues raisonnés of Stanislas Lépine and René Princeteau, master of Toulouse-Lautrec, and edited the one of André Derain all the while proposing stunning exhibitions of renowned artists yearly in his gallery.

View of the inaugural exhibition Eugène Boudin at Robert Schmit Gallery in 1965

Exceptionally for a private gallery, Robert Schmit was often called upon by museums throughout the world to collaborate on major exhibitions: in Paris at the Louvre, in London at the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery, in Washington at the National Gallery of Art, and also in Munich, Tokyo, Zurich and many other places.

In his search for works to acquire, Robert Schmit relied on his extremely acute eye. In his own words, "The eye is innate. 97 times out of a hundred, you know immediately whether a painting is good or bad by the shock it gives you". The rest is a matter of work, obstinacy, perseverance, travel, patience... He once stated: "I followed a Courbet for thirty years before I got it". For Robert Schmit this passion never waned: "It is a profession that one loves, by practising it, more and more, because how could one be blasé by beauty? (interview with Jean Cau, op. cit.). He was tireless and never gave up. As he once confided to his wife Nadine who accompanied him in this relentless search: "Life would have no charm if it were not for the constant struggle to maintain one's ideal; the secret of existence is a perpetual struggle and he who has not understood it has understood nothing about life.”

The selection of works presented for sale today is an extraordinary tribute to Robert and Nadine Schmit's erudite and sensitive taste. This exceptional collection reveals a sharp eye for the great masters of the 19th and 20th centuries. A panoptic vision which takes us from Courbet to Chassériau through to Van Dongen, Dufy and Villon, while delving deeply into the oeuvre of the great precursors and masters of Impressionism: Boudin, Lépine, Renoir, Morisot, Sisley and Seurat among others.

Assembled by a discreet and erudite couple, this unique group of works bears witness to a lifetime of a shared passion in art.

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