If the idea of promoting the work of Philippe Smit, a Dutch artist in the post-Impressionist period, first emerged fifty years ago, the actual project to make his work more widely known only began five years ago.
I lived my youth surrounded by Smit’s paintings. I often wondered why his work was not more widely known, and I was keen to bring them to a broader public and to ensure their future. In 1973, I asked my uncle, the art collector and patron Theodore Pitcairn, who was virtually the sole buyer of Smit’s work, for help in this task.
Sadly, my uncle passed away shortly thereafter, which led to the project being delayed by several decades. My full availability from 2012 on and a fortunate meeting with the art historian Andreas Narzt made it finally possible to start with the preparations of an online catalogue raisonné of the work of Philippe Smit. Narzt agreed to undertake a crucial role in the project, becoming its scientific director. It seemed to me urgent to establish a comprehensive index of all of Smit’s artistic production before their future dispersal, which would make the task even more arduous, if not impossible, and also to look for those works of which all trace had been lost.
The launch of the online catalogue raisonné is a tribute to Theodore Pitcairn. To this day, 570 works have been indexed and studied. With the work continuing, there remains open the possibility of adding other works, including new information, as well as corrections made to existing material. The great advantage of this online tool is that it can be updated and developed at any time; it is a living instrument in furtherance of Smit’s work.
Theodore Pitcairn’s sponsorship of Smit took place relatively early in the life of the artist, so that he was relieved of the obligation to negotiate with the art dealers of his time. It also reduced any commercial basis for seeking wider recognition. As a consequence of Pitcairn’s generous patronage, Smit acquired the freedom to work the last 26 years of his life as he saw fit. Now, so many years later, the purpose of our project is to make Smit’s work better known and bring it to a wider public.
We have only been able to do this important work thanks to the generosity of Pitcairn’s children and grandchildren, of friends, and French family members. Eshowe Pitcairn-Pennink, my cousin, was supportive from the first mention of the project and contributed as much as possible to the realization of all of its stages and thus pursues with great enthusiasm her father’s commitment to the artist.
The task included taking high resolution photographs of all art works, as well as detailing their provenance and ownership history, and also details of exhibitions, published references, and primary sources. In addition, the chronology of the artist’s life and the biographies of his close relations animate the painter’s history.
This project has also relied on a small team of people in Holland, the US, France and England, who have given freely of their time. Their generous help and enthusiasm over the past five years has been very precious.
Finally, we are pleased to announce that the catalogue raisonné is available in both French and English. For its realisation we used the software designed by panOpticon Smart Art Cataloguing + Publishing.
Florence Castellani, Head of project, May 2017