Erzsebet (Elizabeth) (Maria or Mary) was born in Budapest on the 29th of June 1893 the daughter of Daniel Podvinecz an industrialist who built motors and motor cars, and his wife, Hermina Racz (Rosenberg). Countess Zichy as she became known commercially, died on a visit to Europe on the twentieth of July 1962 in Baden Baden, Germany, at 69 years of age. Her remains are buried in Somers, New York in the Ivandell Cemetery along with her mother and the remains of her two sisters and brother-in-law.
She married Endre Gyula Johann Kasimir Emmerich Géza Zichy in Budapest on the 19th of November 1919. He was born in Sajovamos, Borsod, Hungary on the ninth of May 1899 and was the son of Kasimir Hyppolit Georg Ludwig Zichy and Ilona, princess Odescalchi. He was married secondly to Inge Muller sometime after 1940. Endre died in April 1980 in Johannesburg, South Africa, at 80 years of age. The 1923 Budapest City Directory lists him as a resident of Budapest at 33 Nagymezo utca, the home of the Podvinecz family.
According to a book on Hungarian Castles found in the library of the County Archives in Veszprem, Endy Zichy was given 1000 hold of land at Zichyujfalu by his father as a settlement.
Erzsebet Podvinecz also used the name Maria, though it only seems to appear in her America Citizenship application. She painted under the name “Countess Maria Zichy” in the United States.
As a young girl, Erzsebeth Podvinecz demonstrated a fair amount of artistic talent, enough to warrant studies with Mixsa (Max) Thein, a noted Budapest painter and teacher of the time, when she was only twelve. At the age of fourteen she became a student at the Fine Arts High School (Kepzomuveszeti Foiskola) of Budapest. She also studied privately with Imre Revesz. She next went to Paris and studied at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere under Rene Menard and Castellucio. On return to Hungary she was a student for a time starting in 1908 at the Royal Hungarian Academy, now the National Academy of Art and with Janos Molnar Pentelei. She worked in Munich in the school of Herrmann Groeber and at the Knirr School. She returned to exhibit in Budapest at the Mucsarnok and at the Nemzeti Szalon. The Catalogue of the Nemzeti Szalon for March/April 1915 lists paintings number 190 through 222 with a total value of well of 136,000 Korona, a substantial sum at the time.
There is a postcard of one of her early paintings that hung in the National Gallery. It is of a couple dressed for a costume ball and the man is dressed as an Italian clown. There is also a photograph of Erzsebet Podvinecz sitting in her studio among a collection of her works, many of which are in grand format.
Erzsebet Podvinecz and Endre Zichy went to America for the first time, around the year 1919. An early publicity article about them in a magazine stated that she had been the court painter of the Hapsburgs and the Communist regime of Bela Kun had threatened to cut off her hands. It was further implied that Endy Zichy was threatened as he belonged to the landholding aristocracy. In any event, their landfall was made at New Orleans from where they traveled to El Paso Texas to take refuge with her aunt, Eugenia Schuster and her family who were already established as leading citizens of that city. During that visit, Erzsebet painted portraits of some of the leading local citizens and replenished her cash.
They apparently went on to New York and became established there, taking an apartment at 525 West 135th Street. They returned to Hungary for a visit in June 1921, as the Horthy regime had reestablished order in the country, albeit of an unpleasant, nationalistic sort of right wing variety.
On December first, 1921 they took ship, along with her sister Stephanie, and sailed from Antwerp to New York on the S.S. Kroonland, arriving on the first of December. Their ages as given to the immigration officials was 22 for Endy and Elisabeth and 21 for Stephanie, who listed herself as a student. They gave as the address of their nearest relative, Hermine Podvinecz at 33 Nagymezo utca in Budapest. This is strange as the parents of Count Zichy were both alive and had a more prestigious name and address. Another fact revealed by the immigration information is that Endy Zichy was only 5'5" tall, the same height as his wife and sister-in-law.
They gave as an additional reference the name of General Bondholtz in Washington, D.C. He was a friend of Muci (Hermine Podvinecz) according to Stephanie. At the time of the Allied occupation of Hungary following World War I he was the representative of the American Army on the Commandatura. It was he who put U.S. Postage stamps on the doors and locks of the National Gallery in Budapest during the Romanian Occupation to create the impression that the collection was under the protection of the U.S. government. His diary can be found on-line.
At some point following her arrival in the United States, Erzsebet Podvinecz started painting under the name Countess Maria Zichy.
There is a collection of photographs of the estate of the Zichy family at Zichyujfalu taken in the 1920's or 30's.
During the thirties she and her husband repeatedly visited Europe. According to the Hamburg website, she had crossings on the tenth of September 1935 as Elisabeth, Grafin Zichy, Artist/Painter on the S.S. Saint-Louis. Endy came on the 20th of December in the same year, as Andreas Graf Zichy, real estate owner, on the S.S. Hamburg. On the 24th of December, 1936 he arrived as Endre Zichy, farmer, on the S.S. Deutschland from Hamburg. In 1937 he was once again a Christmas present as he also arrived on the 24th on the same ship, from the same place.
Finally, Elisabeth Zichy, artist, arrived on the S.S. Bremen (in tourist class!) on the 20th of September 1937.
Countess Zichy developed her original renown in the United States as a portraitist for the elites. Some of her sitters included Elihu Root, junior and Bishop Peabody. She painted most of her family in El Paso. Two of her early portraits, that of Princess Ilona Odescalchi, her mother-in-law and Count Louis Degenfeld, the father-in-law of Princess Odescalchi hang in the El Paso Art museum.
In addition to painting portraits, she started teaching, first at the YWCA, then at the City Center Galleries. Eventually she founded the Countess Zichy Academy of Art in New York City. This catered generally to wealthy socialites, but it did help to foster real talent. She liked to paint flowers and her agent took one of her flower paintings, done as a teaching exercise rather than as artwork to be sold, and on the way to the gallery where it was to be shown, sold it. This lead to contracts with Edward Gross, a large publisher of art prints, Watson Guptill a book publisher specialising in art books, and Grumbachers the supplier of artists materials and paints. A spokesman for Edward Gross said at the time of her death that “hundreds of thousands of her prints were in circulation”. Her sole seascape was available as a print through the Triple S Stamp booklet scheme which rewarded grocery shoppers for their loyalty. The contract with Grumbacher featured her using their products at exhibits. In one promotion, she was to paint a portrait on the spot for a participant at an event.
In 1961 Countes Zichy wrote her book, Flower Painting, it’s Art and Technique published by Watson Gupthill. She died of a heart attack while on a visit to Europe the following year.
One of her paintings is in the National Gallery in Budapest. It was painted and donated as a benefit for wounded soldiers during World War I. This is the only Podvinecz signed work to be found in Budapest as of 2008.
An oil painting titled Punkosdi Rozsa 80 x 60 (cemtimetres) offered for sale on the Hibpaintings Gallery website in October 2006 for 288,972 Hungarian forints. At that time this painting was worth about $1,500 U.S.
A scholarship has been endowed by the family in her name, at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida.
Information courtesy of Peter G. Bakos, Budapest, the artist's nephew