by Roxana Preda





rsz schmied 1

Looking at the tableau of Wieland Schmied’s career with an innocent eye, we have to assume that he must have been a happy man. After studying art history and law in Vienna, he became a prominent art critic and journalist. He was the principal curator of the National Gallery in Berlin until 1975, then became Director of the DAAD [German Academic Exchange Office] and finally Professor of Art History at the Art Academy in Munich. From 1995, he was President of the Bavarian Academy of Art. Among his important cultural appointments, he found the time to write numerous books on modernist art, particularly on surrealism and Giorgio de Chirico; he received several awards in recognition of his work. The title of his autobiography, Lust am Widerspruch [The Enjoyment of Contradiction], was Schmied’s affirmation that his fulfilled professional life had been a struggle for difficult subjects, difficult art, and difficult individuals.

One of those difficult individuals was Ezra Pound himself. Schmied met him personally in August 1958, at Brunnenburg. In his memoir on his interaction with the poet, Erinnerungen an Ezra Pound, Schmied seems to remember that first encounter very vividly: in the morning he met Pound on the way down towards Brunnenburg and then they turned around to go once more up to the village to have a walk and a discussion. Pound was then passionately interested in cultural communication with scholars and fellow artists, willing to get involved in serious questions about the significance of art for the present. He felt isolated and out of touch - Schmied told him a few names, which Ezra noted. He also told him of a German Minnesänger, Oswald von Wolkenstein. In the afternoon, Schmied was invited to a family ritual: Pound was reading The Cantos to his personal circle. On that day, Vanni Scheiwiller was also there and Pound, sitting on the sofa, read Cantos 36 and 37. Everyone had his copyrsz schmied erinnerungen and the little Siegfried Walter was following the lines with his finger. Schmied returned after a week to listen to another reading, this time of Cantos 43 and 44. He was so moved that he dedicated a chapter of his memoirs to his experience as a listener of Pound own, very special oral delivery.

When Schmied returned to Brunnenburg a year later, in August 1959, the effervescence was gone. He found Pound silent and exhausted, sitting in his armchair and letting the conversation drift by. He told Schmied one unforgettable sentence: I am never really awake (“Ich bin nie richtig wach”).

In 1964, Schmied visited again, this time in Venice. Pound was so deeply sunken in his silence by then that each word seemed to demand physical effort. Schmied felt it would have been tactless to talk. He had prepared topics in advance, had wanted to talk about art and tell Pound about Noh performances in Germany. He had brought a book on Hans Arp as a gift. But Pound's silence compelled him to keep silent himself – the book he threw into the water.

Schmied’s interest in Pound as a person and poet went beyond visits and spectatorship. He helped the family find a sanatorium for the poet in 1966. He followed Pound’s fate while he was alive and became a pilgrim after Pound’s death: Schmied went to Idaho to see the house where the poet was born; he lingered beside Pound’s grave in Venice, looking at other visitors’ reactions to it; and he talked to Olga, or rather, he listened to her.

 rsz schmied ep to wlSchmied’s interest in Pound would stay with him all along his brilliant career as an art historian and man of letters: he wrote five books about the poet, taking care to republish and improve older essays in new editions. Two of his books, such as Ezra Pound Studien. Erster Band [Ezra Pound Studies, volume one, 2000] and Ein Irrer schreibt an einen Blinden [A madman writes to a blind man, 2011] are collections of essays written on various occasions along the years. Schmied’s topics are varied: Vorticism, Noh drama, Eliot and Pound as literary critics, Futurism, Pound’s passion for reading and teaching. But it is not the essays that are Schmied’s most valuable contribution, but rather his monograph on Pound and art, the only one we have and the only complete mapping of this important field. Here, in Die schwierige Schönheit [The difficult beauty], Schmied is in his element and always right. It is a pity that this short book has not been translated into English since it offers both fundamental coordinates and observations of detail that we need. The book is not even too old: it was published in 2003 and in this sense we have to think of it as a true interdisciplinary volume, a result of both professional experience and lifelong affection. Unlike Eva Hesse, Schmiedrsz schmied ss wrote only in German. He was in friendly relations with Pound’s family but was not in the orbit of scholarly research in English.

Schmied’s books about Hundertwasser, de Chirico, Hopper, and Francis Bacon have been translated into English and are widely available, his stature and reputation as an art historian of modernism is secure. But to someone who attended the latest conference at Brunnenburg, Schmied’s intellectual journey is particularly poignant. Like us, he had been on a pilgrimage to a nexus of Pound’s presence; had met the family, pointed out the interesting connection to Oswald von Wolkenstein; had written about Pound and travelled to his holy places. We realize that we are in a certain ply of history, as Schmied had been in his: he saw what we saw, talked with the same people, knew the same lines.

In every respect, he is one of us.