Biography

Leopold Matzal (2)

L. C. Matzal, 20th-Century Austrian-American Artist

Leopold Charles Matzal was born in Vienna, Austria in 1890. His father, Carl, was from originally from Prague and worked in Vienna as a wholesale paper salesman. Leopold’s mother, Eleanora, was from the small wine-producing town of Retz, about 50 miles north of Vienna. Leopold was the second of four children.

Leopold displayed an interest in art from a young age. His mother would tell the story that he once took ashes from her stove and used them to shape likenesses on furniture around the house. At school, too, he was sometimes in trouble for making caricatures of his teachers, or for filling every available space in textbooks and papers with sketches and drawings.

Despite the fact that Carl wished for his son to pursue medicine, and later mechanical engineering, Matzal’s evident gifts caused his teachers to steer him toward art. In 1909, Matzal was accepted to The Imperial and Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (the name was later shortened to The Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna). He studied at the Academy for eight academic years, graduating in 1919. His studies were interrupted by service in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1916-17. Wounded in battle, he was hospitalized for six months. Matzal’s advanced studies were with Alois Delug and Rudolf Jettmar. His studies also included instruction under Wilhelm Trübner in Karlsruhe, Germany, and animal painting under Heinrich von Zügel in Munich.

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Leopold conducting a demonstration

In the spring of 1921, Matzal and his wife Berta emigrated to the United States. After a brief time in New York City (where Berta’s brother was living), they settled in Hoboken, New Jersey. Through a friendship with Thomas Hatfield, the Hoboken City Librarian and an influential person in the region, Matzal obtained numerous portrait commissions from prominent Hudson County families. Throughout the 1920’s, Matzal received recognition for his portraiture in New Jersey and beyond. Nine of his portraits were selected for the exhibitions of the National Academy in New York City. His portrait of businessman Max Nitsche, entitled “Comfortable,” was part of a traveling exhibit of the American Federation of Artists. His portraits of New Jersey Supreme Court Justice James Minturn and Vice-Chancellor John J. Fallon of the State Chancery Court were both hung in the State House in Trenton.

Sadly, in 1924 Berta died of complications from gallbladder surgery. In 1929 Matzal married Elsa Grasme of Hoboken. The couple honeymooned in Maine; for years afterward, they would travel from time to time to New England and also the Catskills of New York, where Matzal would paint landscapes and seascapes. Elsa was a graduate of Cooper Union, and especially enjoyed work in pottery. In 1929, the couple moved to Newark, NJ, where Matzal was already teaching at the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts. Leopold and Elsa’s only child, Edmund, was born in 1933. The family moved to Irvington in 1942, where Matzal converted a garden house on the property into a studio.

In the 1930s and 40s, in addition to his ongoing work in portraiture, Matzal undertook several large murals for public buildings and restaurants. He gave numerous exhibitions, demonstrations, and lectures for the public over the years. He was a member of the Salmagundi Club and the Artists’ Union, both of New York City. He was also for many years an active member and officer in the Schlaraffia, a German literary and arts association. After a severe illness, Matzal passed away in 1956.

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