LEOPOLD SEYFFERT (1887-1956)
ESSAY by Gary A. Reynolds Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Newark Museum1984-88
Leopold Seyffert was an artist of achievement who enjoyed substantial patronage and success during the first half of the twentieth century. Although he painted a variety of subject matter during his long career, Seyffert considerable talents were most often directed towards portraiture and his greatest acclaim was earned in that genre. His portrait of conductor Leopold Stokowski, which won the Fellowship and Popular prizes at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1913, was the first of a long series of images from his brush that included America's cultural, business and political elite. By the early 1940's Henry Clay Frick, Fritz Kreisler, Andrew Mellon, Elizabeth Arden, Samuel Gompers, John G. Johnson and David Sarnoff, amongst others had sat before Seyffert for their portraits. In addition to the prestige of such commissions, Seyffert was recipient of a long string of prizes and honors given by the major American art organizations and museums. However, this acclaim came from conservative academic quarters and, although Seyffert was never openly antagonistic towards abstract art, his work was tangentially and occasionally related to the predominate modernist aesthetic of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, Seyffert's earliest portraits show the influence of his teachers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, especially Cecilia Beaux and William Merritt Chase. His portrait of Mrs. John Worthington (1912), for example, is very much in the style of society portraiture popularized at the turn of the century by Chase, Beaux, Sargent, Boldini and Laszlo. These artists established a taste for elegant, bravura portraiture that lasted well into the twentieth century; a taste with which almost every younger portrait painter had to contend. It appears to have been primarily in his non-commissioned portraits, such as Dutch Girl, that Seyffert was able to leave behind the more elegant tradition of society portraiture. Like the paintings of children by his older contemporaries, Henri and Bellows this engaging portrait is painted with a vigorous, almost consciously inelegant brushwork and palette that are the antithesis of those found in Mrs. Worthington.
As a young artist, Seyffert traveled twice to Europe: Holland in 1912 and Spain in 1914. His debt to the seventeenth-century master Frans Hals is evident in the lively brushwork, intense color and informal compositions of paintings such as Dutch Girl or Little Dutch Mother (now in a Baltimore private collection).(It should be remembered that both Chase and Sargent were early admirers of Hals). In Spain his attention was drawn both to old masters such as Goya and Velasquez (after whom he painted copies) and the popular contemporary portraitist, Ignacio Zuloaga. It was under these later influences that Seyffert created his mature portrait style. Typically these make use of a thinner paint surface, sparse interior settings, a tightly controlled shallow space and a carefully modulated low-key palette. Perhaps his masterpiece of this genre is My Family (at the Brooklyn Museum) in which Seyffert’s wife and two sons are posed in a carefully balanced asymmetrical composition of interlocking forms. In addition to the painted portraits and other subjects such as nudes and flowers, he also produced a large number of charcoal "heads." Many are of his musician friends from Philadelphia, begun while summering at Seal Harbor, Maine in 1916. The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC owns those of Joseph Hofmann, Fritz Kreisler, Leopold Stokowski (1916) and a self-portrait. Unlike Sargent who had turned to drawing portrait heads as a release from the demand of the large finished painting, Seyffert worked almost interchangeably between the two medias. His charcoal portraits, which rarely extend below the subject’s neck, are rendered in a tight meticulous style that emphasizes the dramatic light and shadows of the face. Clearly they were not intended as sketches, but as finished works that could stand comparison with portraits in other media.
It is unfortunate that Leopold Seyffert's work has been so seldom seen in the years following his death. Unlike landscapes, portraits do not as quickly go to the public arena as they are kept in many institutions dark halls. He was a talented painter whose best efforts, especially in the field of portraiture, deserve new study and recognition.
Richard Seyffert (1915-1979)
"Richard Seyffert was a Philadelphian, circa 19l5.His talent in art was apparent at an early age. He came to New York and studied at the National Academy with Leon Kroll and Gifford Beal. World War II found him in a Navy uniform as a photographer’s mate, after which he lived in Bolivia and Peru. It was in the latter country that he painted a splendid portrait of the bullfighter “Manolete". In 1950 returning to the U.S. he established a studio at the National Arts Club in New York City. After a successful show at the Grand Central Gallery, the distinguished American painter, John Johansen wrote, "Seyffert Is an exceptionally good painter. All his portraits are marked by character, by skill and good taste, and reach distinction." One can look from his portraits of opera singer, Patrice Munsell to commentator Ed Murrow, and to the drawings of Richard Rodgers and poet W. H. Auden, and see how accurately Johansen described his work. Recent years he has devoted more time to landscape and compositional works. His sense of color, always fine, has become heightened and he is attempting more by extending his choice of medium into pastel and watercolor. And he is imparting the above through his teaching at the Art Students League in New York City."
Robert Seyffert was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in 1952. He grew up in Lima, Peru and at the age of 8 moved with his family to Massachusetts and then Delaware. He then left home to study at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. After working as a curator on Maryland’s Eastern Shore he went on to earn his Master of Fine Arts at the Parsons School of Design in New York City in 1981. Moving to Baltimore in 1983 he set up a studio in the Fells Point neighborhood and began painting cityscapes with cars. In a profile in American Artist magazine in 2003, he explained the appeal of both natural and urban scenes. “Whether it’s a big tree or a 1965 Pontiac,” Seyffert said, “there’s something about the light hitting the subject that excites me, and that’s what I paint. . . . I’m trying to get the sensation created by the thing I’m looking at, and not just copying it” (Howell, 2003). His landscape paintings include scenes from Maryland, California, Nova Scotia, and Brittany. Seyffert’s cityscapes, depicting the streets of New York and Baltimore and featuring vintage automobiles, are frequently compared to the works of Edward Hopper. “I started painting these cars just like Dutch painters would approach a still life, how they’d carefully place fruit on a table to catch the light in a certain way,” Seyffert said (Howell, 2003). “I get the same kind of excitement for light on chrome.” His paintings are intentionally not clever or cynical but more so they are statements of facts done with a love of craft.Seyffert has taught drawing and painting at Johns Hopkins University, Washington Studio School, Washington, D.C.; and Baltimore School for the Arts. Formerly for 15 years he was director of the Alfred and Traffort Klots Residency Program at Rochefort-en-Terre. This international residency program, administered by the Maryland Institute College of Art, gives professional American artists the opportunity to live, work, and exhibit in a Renaissance Chateau in southeast Brittany, France.Among Seyffert’s awards are a first prize from the National Arts Club, a Helena Rubinstein Grant from the Parsons School of Design, a Greenshields Fellowship, and a Yale at Norfolk Summer School Fellowship. Seyffert’s work resides in many institutional and private collections, including his portrait of James Michener at the National Portrait Gallery. Seyffert’s work has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including shows at Loyola College, Baltimore; National Arts Club, New York; Washington Studio School, Washington, D.C.; and Paula MacDonald Gallery, Chester, Nova Scotia. The exhibition, Leopold, Richard, and Robert Seyffert: Three Generations of Artistic Visions, featuring more than 100 paintings by Seyffert, his uncle, and his grandfather, was shown in Baltimore, New York, and Washington, D.C. and his work is represented by the William Holman Gallery, New York.
Leopold, Richard and Robert Seyffert
DETAIL: Estelle Winwood, Actress 1919
painting in New York
John Worthington First oil portrait 1905
collection Benedum Foundation Pittsburgh
Self Portrait by Richard Seyffert
Robert Seyffert (above) by Richard Seyffert and (below) by Ron Terner
Henry Clay Frick ca. 1920 oil
Collection Heinz History Center