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 Jan Matulka  (1890 - 1972)

About: Jan Matulka


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Lived/Active: New York / Czech Republic      Known for: cubist figure, landcape and still life painting

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BIOGRAPHY for Jan Matulka
1890 (Prague, Czechoslovakia)
1972 (New York City)

New York / Czech Republic

Often Known For
cubist figure, landcape and still life painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Jan Matulka became a leading modernist working with Stuart Davis to find a new type of Cubism based on distortion of forms.  The totality of his work ranged from traditional to abstract, reflecting the changes in the art world of 20th century America.

In 1907, he came to the Bronx, New York where he had a poverty-ridden childhood with a mother who tried to raise a family by herself.  From 1908 to 1917, he studied at the National Academy of Design, and in 1917, received the first Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship with which he traveled and painted in the Southwest and Florida.  His work from this period showed a turning towards a more abstract style, replacing his earlier realism.

In 1919, he first went to Paris and then returned in 1927 on a scholarship from the National Academy.  In Paris, he was exposed to Cubism, and his painting after that seemed always to carry that influence.  He had his first one-man exhibit in New York City in 1925, and by 1930, he and Davis were experimenting with their version of Cubism.

Concurrently for New Masses, a communist magazine, he did satiric illustrations expressing his sympathy for the working classes, and from 1929 to 1931, he taught at the Art Students League where he inspired emerging modernists such as David Smith, Dorothy Dehner, and I Rice Pereira.  In the late 1930s, he became a WPA mural artist.

He continued to paint until he died in New York City in 1972.

Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from McCormick Gallery:
Jan Matulka was born in 1890 in a small town 85 miles southwest of Prague, in what later became Czechoslovakia. In 1905 he took his first art classes in Prague, and two years later his family emigrated to the United States settling in the Bronx, New York.

He then began taking classes at the National Academy of Design continuing there through 1917. After he finished his training, he moved into a studio apartment in Manhattan and met Lida Jirouskova, whom he married in 1918. Throughout this time he traveled quite extensively visiting the southwest United States, Czechoslovakia, Paris and Prague. In 1926, Katherine Dreier arranged his first important one-man exhibition at The Art Center, 65 East 56th Street in New York. However their relationship soon began to sour due to Matulka's acts of ingratitude and disagreements they began to have.

In 1931, Stuart Davis arranged a showing of his own work at the Art Students League along with the work of Matulka, John Graham and Arshile Gorky, which began a professional friendship between the four. Ultimately Matulka's position at the League was eliminated in part because of opposition from conservative faculty members.

In 1933, he made his final visit to Europe and gave up his Paris studio to Josef Sima. In 1935 he joined the Federal Art Project (FAP) under the WPA where he created the mural Synthesis of American Music and History. His affiliation with FAP ended in 1939. In 1944 he had a solo exhibition at the A.C.A. Gallery and after that time dropped off the artistic map but still kept working until his death in 1972. In 1969 his name was mentioned in the retrospective catalog for David Smith as his biggest influence, and Matulka's work began to sell. In 1970 New York dealer Robert Schoelkopf began representing Matulka and gave him a solo exhibition. In 1979 a retrospective of Matulka's work opened at the Whitney Museum of Art, and in 1982 an exhibition of works donated by Lida Matulka was organized at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in New York. In 1995 a one-person exhibition was organized by the Thomas McCormick Gallery in Chicago and from 2004-2006 The Global Modernist exhibition traveled to six venues.

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