With these later news articles it becomes apparent how much of Pamela Colman Smith’s work has been lost. We find a tendency among the reporters to “damn with faint praise” as Pixie moves out of the realm of neighborhood parlour entertainment and begins to be taken seriously by people like Alfred Stieglitz—always dangerous for a woman of the time. I’ve placed Pixie’s paintings-to-music here rather than in my 1907 post (when she began exhibiting them) because these news articles are more slanted toward her musical works. See also this article in Current Literature on “Pictured Music.”
Stieglitz purchased quite a few of Pixie’s paintings, which Georgia O’Keefe sold off separately soon after he died—despite his desire, stated in his will, to keep them together—amid some speculation that a decades-old jealousy was involved. The Delaware Art Museum has a few in of her works in their collection and produced an exhibit in 1975 curated by Melinda Boyd Parsons (she wrote the catalog and has an unpublished biography of Smith), also shown more recently in Santa Fe. We now know for certain, from the article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, that Pixie split up her drawings for the Tarot deck, bringing some of them to the US. In what attics might they still reside?
Demonstrating Pixie’s evolving Catholicism, we find a series of works called the “Litany of Loreto,” described as “byzantine” and taking their names from the call-and-response list of titles given the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1587: Spiritual vessel, Mystical rose, Tower of David, Tower of ivory, Morning star (see below in Latin). This poster featuring the Holy Virgin of Czenstochowa (c. 1915-18) is the only hint we have of what the “Litany” paintings may have been like:
“strong and full of the mystic, impressive power”
Mon., Mar. 18, 1912
Pamela Coleman Smith, a Brooklyn artist who made a name for herself early in her career at the Pratt Art Department, is exhibiting “drawings suggested by music, paintings on silk, and other original work” at the Berlin Photograph Company, Manhattan. There are twenty paintings on silk, framed like water colors and her handling of the material is very clever, having much of the strength of water colors, added to the softness of the silk texture. Five pictures exemplify what Miss Smith’s ideas of five Debussy compositions are: “L’Isle Joyous,” Gardens in the Rain,” “The Little Shepherd,” “What the West Wind Saw,” and “Snow is Dancing.” The first two pictures are in the Japanese style, largely, and have gorgeous color schemes. Less fantastic is “The Tree of Dawn,” suggesting an aria, by Mozart; it is the best of the paintings, full of tempered imagination and fine in color. “The Little Shepherd” is charming and natural. When Miss Smith does not give her fancy full rein, she is more enjoyable purely and simply. There is a fine sense of rhythm and swing to her pictures. When the drawings have the merest touches of dark, for example, there is a freedom and action about them which is impressive. “Spring Carried by Showers,” suggesting an aria, by Arthur Foote, and “People of the Rain” are two interesting paintings; in the first the goddess is carried in a litter by personified rain columns, and in the latter, rain people are suggested by falling masses of rain; they are two most attractive designs. “Dancing Trees,” and “Rain Passing Through a Valley.” both inspired by Dvorak music, are tree forms and rain forms, made into figures, cleverly and charmingly. “Snow is Dancing” and “Cloud Faces” are two more nature studies in which faces look out at you from the contours of snow and cloud. “The Ship of Dreams” and “Dreams Returning Home” (Nachstuck), the latter by Schumann, are very different, one being a fantasy and the other a realistic theme where dream people are shown returning home up a hill, toward its top, where a figure stands unfurling a flag. “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn” are other color pieces. Designs for the “Litany of Loretto” are: “Vas Spirituale,” “Rosa Mystica,” “Turris Muideca,” “Turris Eburicca” all weird and mystical. A Caesar Franck Prelude has suggested a woman with a paddle in a foreground of rushes an a man in the distance with a paddle.
Hamlet is not a musical reflection but is strong; the snow drifts around the Dane and his ghostly father. “The Call to Earth” is a Caesar Franck idea, and is clever and imaginative, but most persons will prefer to retain their own impressions of what music suggests rather than exchange them for other’s thoughts. Some of these sonatas, arias and symphonies are highly descriptive, suggesting “Dancing Cloud,” “Ruined Temples and Spilt Wine,” “Seven Towers of Fairy,” “Blue Smoke” and “Phantom Inn.”
The drawings are strong and full of the mystic, impressive power. Miss Smith’s conception of the “Appassionata Sonata” is a swanlike figure, huge and having the face of a woman, billows and turrets, or they may suggest trees, to some observers. The Mozart music themes are interesting as the dress of the time, figures in the drawing. A Schumann symphony suggests a swaying, giant woman’s figure and a background of trees. Miss Smith takes violin concertos, fugues, quartets and other musical divisions to make pictures about. “E Tourdine” shows Debussy’s music suggesting two figures bearing heavy burdens. Strauss music suggests a bold and mystical drawing to Miss Smith.
The designs for a set of Tarot cards are excellent. “Page of Cups,” “Page of Pentacles,” “Ace of Swords,” “Nine of Swords,” “ Five of Cups,” “Four of Wands.” Several hand colored prints are included in the exhibition: “Alone,” “Charles and Annie,” “The Recitation” and other designs.
— The Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“an imagination of no common order”
Sun. Mar. 17, 1912
Henry James has called music “the great dissolvent,” but after looking at the exhibition of drawings “suggested by music” at the Berlin Photographic company signed Pamela Coleman Smith, one is inclined to think the precise opposite. Miss Smith’s lines seems to quicken into creative activity when she listens to music. The sound waves set her pencil weaving strange arabesques and always to a distinctly recognized rhythm. She is nothing if not rhythmic. Mr. Birnbaum tells us that the artist makes her designs in the concert room. But we hasten to assure those to whom this mixing of the sister arts is incomprehensible that these drawings qua drawings may be enjoyed without their musical genesis obtruding itself. If Miss Smith is affected by music and produces work of such a distinctive delicacy, charm, subtlety, why that is her own psychology. Certainly some of the Debussy illustrations are as satisfactory as their tonal originals. Debussy thinks so himself, owns and admires an entire portfolio.
“Snow is Dancing” is truly an evocation in which the decorative impulse looms large; “Garden in the Rain” is lyric. “People of the Rain” betrays true fantasy; indeed, fantasy rules these singularly attractive paintings on silk and all the drawings. Since Miss Smith first exhibited at Mr. Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession Gallery she has much improved technically. Her line is less crabbed, more firm and sweeping; her color sense is warmer. Naturally these memoranda are never welded into a whole. Miss Smith has yet to make a composition. She has a preference for ultramodern music, possibly because of its indeterminate form, its raporous melancholy and its rhythmic variety, yet she can ring in a virile manner the changes on Beethoven as exemplified in the Appasionata Sonata op 57. Her water colors are exquisite notations. Let us suggest that the entire collection be taken at its face value, artistically speaking, without troubling over the evasive correspondence of tone and form. Theophile Gautier’s poem, “Correspondences,” might serve as a general title for the entire exhibition. The designs for the Litany of Loreto—Rose mystical, Turris Davidica, Turris eburnea and Stella matutina—demonstrate an imagination of no common order. They are decorative, spiritual and with a touch of the hieratic that may be noted in Byzantine art.
— The Sun (New York)
“we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously”
Mar. 17, 1912
Pamela Coleman Smith is exhibiting at the Berlin Photographic Company’s gallery a group of drawings made to music. Her method is simple. She is not a musician and the laws of structure and harmony known to the composer are not in her mind. While she listens to music she draws lines suggested by the emotion the music causes. Sometimes they are long and slow, sometimes broken and staccato, sometimes whirling, sometimes curly and rococo, and the observer recognizes in some of them his own impressions while listening to certain movements.
It is a guileless art rooted in the great truth that all arts meet somewhere on common ground; but too much easily could be made of it. Miss Smith is sensitive to inspiration and delightfully suggests spontaneous feeling. Many a well-trained painter fails to do this. On the other hand, a painter as well grounded in his art as the musical composers illustrated in this charming exhibition are in theirs would probably not interrupt the rhythms of his line so inadvertently as we frequently find them interrupted here. Three dancing figures twining in swift movement are to the laymen very inspiring, but an artist would feel impatient at noting a stiff little square made by four unnecessary accents of dark among the flowing rhythms, which only means, of course, that we must not take these very personal expressions too seriously.
Miss Smith has given pleasure in a very quaint and personal manner. In a few of her drawings she communicates a genuine thrill, and all are well worth seeing for a quiet half hour. In her paintings, several of which are also on exhibition, she shows anew her fine sense of color. Her hilltop with a sky full of the tints of dawn and the figures of dreams trooping homeward is a rare piece of color and a lovely little fairy story.
All the work, drawings, and paintings alike illustrate childlike feelings and imaginings, and have a sweet, old-fashioned freshness of style, a simplicity of thought not often to be found in public galleries. Children love Miss Smith’s drawings because they retain the sparkle of childish fantasy.
— New York Times