This is a finely executed, modernist oil-on-canvas fine art work by the important American bohemian artist, Eric von Schmidt. The son of renowned Western Americana illustrator, Howard von Schmidt, Eric (Ric) von Schmidt was also a musician. Bob Dylan has often cited the influence von Schmidt had on the performer throughout Dylan’s career. On Dylan’s debut album, the track Baby Let Me Follow You Down is introduced: “I first heard this from Ric von Schmidt. I met him one day in the green pastures of Harvard University.”
The painting dates the work to this period in von Schmidt’s career. Verso reads “Ric von Schmidt, Westport, Connecticut.”
The painting features a loosely and emotionally presented view of a nude figure-painting art class. The abstracted presentation and languid posture of the nude sitter reflect the objection that the bohemian movement felt towards the commercialization of art and the body in 1950s American culture. This stunning piece of Americana modern art comes nicely matted and framed and ready to hang.
The New York Times biography of von Schmidt presents a touching portrait of this influential artist and performer:
Eric von Schmidt, a performer and composer of folk music who as a boy instantly fell in love with the blues when he heard Leadbelly on the radio, and who went on to be a mentor to and to inspire singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, died yesterday in Fairfield, Conn. He was 75.
His daughter Caitlin von Schmidt said that the cause had not been determined, but that he suffered a stroke last year. He lived in Westport, Conn.
Mr. von Schmidt was a frisky, bearded figure, who combined a successful career as a painter of big pictures of historical subjects with an exuberant musical style he liked to apply to American folk classics. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the legendary cowboy singer, lauded his spirited approach to the songs of Leadbelly, the legendary blues artist, and the folk songs of Woody Guthrie.
“Eric’s got that wild spirit, and he doesn’t water the music down for polite society,” Mr. Elliott told The Boston Globe in 1996.
Mr. von Schmidt settled in Cambridge, Mass., in 1957 and began to hang around with students and others who were developing an interest in folk music. Soon, people who would become folk stars, like Mr. Dylan and Ms. Baez, became part of the scene.
Mr. von Schmidt shared the large repertory of traditional music he had collected for years, and worked with performers developing a more modern version of folk music. He influenced Tom Rush, with whom he revived and arranged the most widely performed version of the traditional song Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm?, about the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Tex.
Both Mr. von Schmidt and Mr. Dylan appeared at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, at which Mr. Dylan shocked traditionalists with electric guitars.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Dylan had shown up at Mr. von Schmidt’s doorstep in Harvard Square in Cambridge. The two traded harmonica licks, drank red wine and played croquet. Before crashing on the couch, Mr. Dylan eagerly absorbed some of his host’s voluminous knowledge of music, including folk, country and the blues.
“I sang him a bunch of songs, and, with that spongelike mind of his, he remembered almost all of them when he got back to New York,” Mr. von Schmidt said in The Boston Globe.
A few months later, Mr. Dylan’s first album came out. Over the guitar introduction to Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, he told of meeting Mr. von Schmidt “in the green pastures of Harvard University.”
Mr. von Schmidt had taught the song to Mr. Dylan, and it became one of his standards after being included on his first album (Bob Dylan, 1962). Mr. von Schmidt did not write it; he had learned it from Geno Foreman, who in turn learned it from an old 78 record by Blind Boy Fuller.
On the blurred cover of Mr. Dylan’s fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home (1965), is a picture of a von Schmidt album. Mr. Dylan wrote liner notes for one, saying his friend “could sing the bird off the wire and the rubber off the tire.”
Eric von Schmidt was born in Westport on May 28, 1931. His father, Harold, specialized in rustic portraits of the American West that appeared on magazine covers. By the time Eric was a teenager, he was selling his own illustrations.
His interest in music was kindled by listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. When he heard Leadbelly sing Good Night, Irene on WQXR in 1948, he immediately learned the song, since his girlfriend was named Irene.
He skipped college, studied art in Florence, spent two years in the Army, then moved to Cambridge.
Perhaps his most famous song is Joshua Gone Barbados, which many others have sung. In 1979 he was co-author, with Jim Rooney, of a book about the Cambridge scene, Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.
In addition to Caitlin, who lives in Westport, Mr. von Schmidt, who was twice married and divorced, is survived by another daughter, Megan Richardson of Greenfield, Mass., and three grandsons.
In 2000, Mr. von Schmidt developed throat cancer and became unable to sing. Years later Lyme disease made it hard for him to play the guitar. He kept up with music until six months before his death by working on a series of paintings called Giants of the Blues.