Mott Schmidt Biography

Late Works
by Mark Alan Hewitt

Schmidt's mastery of the classical language of architecture was an inspiration to a new generation of American architects, among them Allan Greenberg and Robert A. M. Stern. In attempting to re-learn the classical canon, these architects found in Schmidt a master whose strong, rigorous compositions struck a chord -his work was unsentimental, pragmatic and well resolved. In the new generation of American country houses of the 1980s, particularly in the New York area, one can see Schmidt's architectural legacy. As Schmidt learned from Charles Platt, another group of architects have used his work to extend the Georgian tradition.

How does Schmidt's work compare to that of his contemporaries? While not an innovator even in the conservative trends of his time, Schmidt was a torchbearer for principles held by a large number of early twentieth century architects. He was an artist of fastidious integrity and uncommon good sense, but clearly not a designer of surpassing visual brilliance or formal inventiveness - the kind of genius we associate with a Lutyens, for instance. Like Platt, he actually sought to remove visual tension from his designs, to achieve a modest and subtle balance of elements and a solid, quiet pragmatism that were seen as "American" and "classic" in spirit. If these qualities are aesthetically incomprehensible to today's taste, let us not be too quick to condemn them, but seek to understand the societal conditions which made both patrons and architects pursue the eclectic philosophy in design. By 1920 the legacy of eclectic design was so pervasive and culturally sanctioned that Schmidt and other architects around the country could assimilate its principles and find a ready clientele wanting houses in styles which were felt to have significance to the heritage and history of a region. The modern Georgian house, like the modern Tudor or Mediterranean one, had become a genre, a well-defined type, and a symbol for a way of life. Schmidt and other eclectic architects could have flourished only through the patronage chain of American's plutocracy, with its particular tastes for the antique, the "colonial;" the aristocratic and the traditional. His architecture met a need. His art was sustained by clients who felt as he did, that America's early culture should be a model for a modern one.

Schmidt's contribution to the development of the Georgian house and the personal touch which he brought to his handling of the idiom mark him as one of a handful of critically important later classical architects in the United States. This little-known master of "town and country" domestic architecture deserves recognition both for the quality of his achievement and for his place in a movement which continues to have a major impact on American architecture in this century.