Norwegian painter, Carl Frithjof Smith, is not a well-known artist today. Despite his lack of fame, his art is beautiful and worthy of recognition and study. Smith lived and worked for all of his adult life in Germany, until his death in 1917. After studying at the then thriving Academy of Fine Art in Munich, Smith took a teaching position in Weimer, Germany, where he remained for most of his life. His work consists mainly of portraits and genre paintings.
Genre painting explores the sphere of a person’s ordinary activity. Focusing on scenes from daily life, these works delve into human interactions, often enticing us to examine our own everyday moments in a more thoughtful manner. The genre painter must be someone in touch with the inner psyche of others. In what is perhaps his most famous work, After First Communion, Smith triumphs at this craft, presenting a scene that is rich in human feeling and meaning.
In the painting we see Mass participants spilling out of a church door on the left, down steps, and onto the street. This crowd consists mainly of young girls. What is most striking about this painting is the dazzling white of the girls’ ceremonial dresses. Worn at baptism, first Eucharist, and marriage, white garments symbolize the purified soul of the believer. The gray stone of the church contrasts with the vibrant white of the girls’ garments. There is an ethereal feel to the work that is anchored by the darker tones of the church and the garments of fellow parishioners. Smith balances the careful study of figures with a soft atmospheric treatment of the subject matter. This interplay is particularly clear in his treatment of the background compared to the foreground. The subject matter is clear and well described, and the use of contrast is greater in the foreground, while soft colors and brushstrokes are used in the background. His art is considered to be a middle way between rigid academism and airy plein air painting. While the general feel of the painting is lovely and pleasant, the expressions and interactions of the subjects are what draw us deeper into the work.