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Leopold Gould Seyffert

1887-1956

Seyffert was born in California, Missouri, and raised in Colorado. His earliest art exposure came from briefly studying with an artist named La Salle; he also painted cakes in a local bakery and glass eyes for a taxidermist. After the family moved to Pittsburgh, Seyffert began working as an office boy for John Worthington, a geologist for Standard Oil. His artistic talent caught the attention of his boss. He then studied for two years at the Stevenson Art School while living with the Worthington family. Worthington later loaned him the money to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a debt he paid off with many portraits of their family.

From 1909 to 1913, Seyffert taught at Graphic Sketch Club in Philadelphia. In 1910, he won the Cresson Traveling Scholarship and went to Europe with his fiancée, the painter Helen Fleck, and her mother. In 1912 he again won the scholarship and traveled and worked in Volendam, Holland. During that time he befriended the conductor Leopold Stokowski and painted his portrait. The work won the 1913 Fellowship Prize and the Popular Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy annual. That year he also won honorable mention at the Carnegie International Exhibition and was honored with a special section at a Pittsburgh exhibition. In 1914, the Seyfferts summered in Spain where he painted in Segovia.

From 1914 to 1921, Seyffert taught at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) and began to win more awards for his work. In 1916, he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design and won the Beck Gold Medal at the Pennsylvania Academy for a portrait of violinist Fritz Kreisler, now in the National Portrait Gallery. Seyffert later moved to Chicago and began teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a post he held until 1927. He won numerous awards for his work and was a founding artist of the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York.

Seyffert became one of the leading portraitists of the 20th century and painted many of America’s cultural, business and political elite of the time, including Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, John Wanamaker, Elizabeth Arden, Samuel Gompers, Charles Lindbergh, Marshall Field, Jr., and David Sarnoff. He operated a studio in New York starting in 1925, and moved there in 1928.

In the 1930s he won the Isidor Medal at the National Academy of Design, had solo exhibitions in Pittsburgh and Boston, and traveled to Guatemala on a commission from the Grace Shipping Lines to paint the people of Antigua and Chichicastenago for canvasses destined to decorate the company’s ships.

In his later years, Seyffert became an avid gardener and painted flower still lifes. His work is represented in the collections of numerous institutions including the National Academy of Design, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Portrait Gallery.

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