The project began in the summer of 2009 when our gallery was contacted by the widow of this late artist to examine the collection of art he created throughout his lifetime. The work became an all consuming venture and resulted in the creation of a body of knowledge concerning not only the art, but, of even more importance, the life of the artist that was responsible for these creations.
It was a life made up of such contrasts that it served as a primer for what it takes to make art that truly moves the observer. The evolution of this story and the project came from a wonderfully rich reservoir of facts, photographs, letters, and the personal memoirs as written by the artist throughout his lifetime.
It is the chronicling of an amazing life journey and a testament to the power of the human spirit to survive in the face of extraordinary circumstances aimed at the destruction of humanity. Welcome to the life and times of master artist Matthew Troyan.
The post world war II period was awash with societal, cultural, and economic changes, many of which were epic. In New York City there was a raucous, contentious, and free thinking breed of artists that came to be known as “The Irrascibles” that seized the title of capitol of the art world from Paris. Numerous writings have been offered by art historians concerned with the post war decade that was categorized as the abstract expressionist movement.
The notables in this group were: Pollock, De Kooning, Kline, Hoffman, Rothko, Reinhardt, and others. In an essay by Peter Hastings Falk he writes: “but before the turn of the 21st century deeper research had gained momentum and now has shined new light on other first generation members of the group who had unfortunately remained unnoticed by art historians. Among those rediscovered masters is Matthew Troyan (1913 – 2007).” To underscore Troyan’s presence and importance to this newly formed group of art rebels Franz Kline had described Matthew as one of the best colorists, if not the best, he had ever known. He further said to Troyan that he could never be like Troyan because Troyan was the brush and the brush was him and he could never achieve that level.
Closer scrutiny of Troyan’s artistic journey shows it to be extraordinary since he is the only abstract expressionist to have survived the holocaust. It was Troyan’s unspeakable experiences at Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and Ebensee and his personal spiritual evaluation of the interaction of good and evil that filled the creative reservoir which propelled this artist’s hand to make brash, powerful, and unvarnished brushstrokes coupled with an innate understanding of color.
Raised in a traditional catholic family in Kielce, Poland, a town nestled in the Holy Cross mountain range, Troyan was only 3 when his father, Pawel, a political activist and resistance fighter tragically and mysteriously died. Just one week prior to the father’s death Matthew’s oldest sister died from an overwhelming sepsis that was brought on by a tragic fall in the forest. After the sister’s and father’s deaths the family faced not only emotional turmoil but economic ruin. However, typical of the Polish families of the time, the entire family, led by the mother, Franciszka, pulled together to solidify the family unit and make possible advanced schooling for all the children, most especially for Matthew, identified by the family at age 6 as someone with an extraordinary gift in the arts.
Over the next two decades all family members contributed to the family to maintain the integrity of the unit and most of the money saved went to provide schooling at advanced levels for all the children.
In 1937, at the age of 24, Troyan entered the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art only to have his studies cut short in 1939 by his magnetic attraction to defend his homeland against the Nazi invaders. Following in his father’s role as a resistance fighter Troyan left Warsaw in the summer of 1939 traveling 200 miles north to join the first division of the Polish cavalry and in September entered the battle of the Tuchola forest. When the dust settled the german panzer tanks and the artillary batallion had annihilated the poles. Troyan personally witnessed most of his comrades slaughtered and his own horse shot from under him.
Miraculous as it was, Troyan not only survived but tirelessly treked back some 200 miles to Warsaw to rejoin his foot soldiers. At his return he also reconnected to the Warsaw Academy from which he eventually graduated with the distinction of master artist in 1941. With no delay in his recording of the foot trip back from the corridor he began to create a series of paintings that forever gave witness to his horrific observations on the walk back to Warsaw. The series, primarily done between 1940 and 1942 was named the “Warsaw in Chaos Series”.
However, the greatest test of his life was still before him. In February 1942 he was arrested by the Nazi SS and sent to Auschwitz as a trader to the state. It was only in December of the previous year that his mentor, and director of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, incidentally also a Christian, had been executed for the same charge: that of aiding the Jews. During his imprisonment he also learned that one of his brothers had been executed by the Russians in the “Katyn Forest Massacre”. In Troyan’s memoirs he wrote that the commandant at Auschwitz only spared his life so that he could paint portraits of Nazi officers. This camp job kept him alive when he was transferred to Mauthausen and Ebensee. Although the job afforded him some minor privileges hard labor was his expected role with cruel and inhuman living conditions.
In one stand alone incident Troyan was beaten so severely that his right ear was nearly severed from his head. In a written account by his closest friend in the camp, and fellow prisoner, Jerzy stated that Troyan used his meager privileges to aid other prisoners. In one memorable instance he used his access to the camp bakery to steal 5 loaves of bread for his friends. Later, caught in this crime, his punishment was so diabolical that to all human beings it would be viewed an unconscionable act. His punishment, rather than being executed, was to be forced to personally witness as each of his 5 friends was shot in the head at point blank range. Finally, at Ebensee, Troyan escaped his execution set for May 9, 1945, by 4 days. He and the other surviving prisoners were liberated by the allied forces on may 5. In all more than 6,000,000 Polish citizens had been executed of which 3,000,000 were Christians, like Troyan.
When the dust finally settled and the shambles that was once Warsaw was revealed in the light of a post war day Troyan chose to move onto Dusseldorf to become a student at the Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Art rather than return to Warsaw. With his art education grounded from studies at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art he entered Dusseldorf well trained in art history with a bent towards German expressionism.
In addition to his academic studies his friend and mentor, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884 – 1976) exerted a great influence on the works of Troyan. Troyan, a colorist of extraordinary talent was also imbued with the works of the father of expressionism, Kandinsky. In fact, by 1940, Troyan, with his robust gestural style was painting works that predated any of those abstract expressionists of New York who he would later come to know and work with in New York City.
In 1950, Troyan graduated with high honors from the academy at Düsseldorf and immigrated to New York from Bremahaven as a “displaced person” and almost immediately after arriving, he assimilated with the artists in Greenwich Village in January 1951 and gathered with them at the historic Cedar Bar. He quickly befriended De Kooning and Kline, came to know Pollock, much to his later regret, and painted in New York City and eastern Long Island with them.
In 1953, after Pollock instigated a fight with Troyan, Troyan abruptly picked up his palette and brushes and moved to the bucolic country environment of Connecticut. Troyan’s reason for this rapid self exile was simple: “i came to this country just to paint and not live through another war”. Even at the age of 85 he confessed that: “everyday I can still smell the smoke from the burning bodies in the crematorium”.
Despite having two solo exhibitions at the New Britain Museum of American Art (1954 and 1965) Troyan never set out again for the limelight of New York and preferred to live out the remainder of his life in Connecticut, painting and continuing to experiment with his art. He produced almost 4000 works on paper and canvases. Away from the influence of the New York expressionists he achieved artistic breakthroughs on his own terms rather than being a slave to those artists that were functioning conceptualists who required their stamp of approval to join those governing the new world capitol of fine art.
When looking back at Troyan’s life it is now clear that Troyan had a deep abiding love of justice and fairness in the world and in the world’s people and the need to show that unseen truth on his canvases. Troyan was, when all was said and done an expressionist from first hand observation of the truth of the cruelty of man to man; a real time observer of the interaction of good and evil. He was a partaker in the pain and suffering one man could endure and still rise above it with the strength that was inherent in the human spirit. He was in fact a “spiritual expressionist”. He was a person that shared his real feelings from deep within and his personal reaction to his observations. He shared his very esse and essence in the only way he could, with a paint brush and a piece of paper to present and bear witness to his worldly observations.
Please enjoy the works of Troyan offered on this site and the opportunity of owning one of these historic paintings.
Note: the source of this essay is taken from a monograph written by Dr. Robert H. Baker, “Matthew Troyan His Spirit & His Art (Brookhaven, New York, RHB Publishing, March, 2014). The monograph is available on the website at www.circasomething.com. The first National exhibit, since his solo exhibit at the New Britain Museum of American Art in 1965, was held at the National Arts Club, New York City (December 21, 2011 to January 13, 2012), and was curated by Dr. Baker.
The legal definition of the Corporation as defined by the Federal and State statutes:
The corporation was originally formed and accepted in Albany on December 31, 2011 and is defined in sub-paragraph (a) (5) of Section 102 of the Not For Profit Corporation Law: the corporation is a Type B Corporation. The first meeting of the Board of Directors was held in February of 2012.
The purpose or purposes for which this corporation was formed are as follows:
The corporation is a non-profit organized to provide scholarships to students who best represent the life and outlook on life as the artist Matthew Troyan, who, in the midst of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, was able to rise above all of the horrors and challenges facing him to create beauty in his art.
To do any other act or thing incidental to or connected with the foregoing purposes or in the advancement thereof, but not for the pecuniary profit or financial gain of its members, directors, or officers.
In furtherance of its corporate purposes, the Corporation shall have all general powers enumerated in Section 202 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, together with the powers to solicit grants and contributions for corporate purposes.
On May 28, 2015 the Corporation was informed that it was exempt from federal income tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501 ( c ) ( 3 ). Donors can deduct contributions they make under IRC Section 170. Also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under Section 2055, 2106, or 2522. The Corporation is further classified as a Public Charity and as such the donors can deduct 50% of their donation from their personal or business income.
1. To create 4 annual scholarships for art students preferably in graduate programs but in some rare instances for undergraduate students in the United States that represent not only the mastery of Troyan as an artist but also share the internal motivation and the spiritual approach to art that Matthew had-most especially looking for those students that overcame significant obstacles in their lives to continue on the path to produce a meaningful piece of art for the public through education.
2. To educate the public as to the life and times of Troyan and what led him to produce the art he did. This will be accomplished by establishing a lecture series to be held at public libraries, universities, corporations, and to create written materials to be distributed by the foundation. In conjunction with this, internships, for art history students in accredited graduate programs will be created to provide the manpower necessary to create a strong educational program.
3. To organize and conduct a worldwide tour that would bring Troyan’s works of art to major world museums and universities. A group from Copenhagen, the award winning UEG Adm, winner of the museums heritage award has indicated, through their CEO, Teit Rizau, that they would be honoured to head up the travelling worldwide exhibit of Troyan and have outlined a 1 to 5 year program to make Troyan world renowned as a master artist.
4. To produce a docudrama of Troyan’s life for public viewing to further bring about an understanding of the person, the artist, Matthew Troyan. To make this possible it will necessitate the hiring of an accomplished screen play writer to transform the monograph written about Troyan to an acceptable script for the movie industry. From that point it will become necessary to fund both the casting and the shooting of the film and then to establish a working distribution group to get the film to public viewing.
5. To conduct fundraising events that will raise money that is necessary to carry out the mission and goals stated above for the foundation.