Matilda Lotz - Artist
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Sheep by Matilda Lotz circa 1880
Matilda Lotz's Donkey, 1880.
Currently hanging in the Lotz House.
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When the citizens of Franklin, Tennessee had the stern reality of the pending, horrible battle that was brewing within their midst, Mr. Carter had compassion on the German immigrant family just across the street from his sturdy and strong brick home. The knowledge was with him that should the battle come close that his brick home would be a far more secure dwelling than Mr. Lotz’s wooden structure.
Therefore, he sent a message to Mr. Lotz and his family with an invitation to please make plans to come over to the Carter house in great haste for they were all going down into the basement of the Carter farmhouse to attempt to survive the bullets, cannons and fire of the enemy. This generous invitation was eagerly accepted with great gratitude.
Matilda Lotz was a small six-year-old girl. Since birth, she had scribbled line drawings in the dirt of household animals and on rare occasions when presented with a scrap of paper, she would take a small bit of cooled coal from a fireplace, and draw childish figures. It is reported that only once did she attempt to express her artistic ability on a vacant wall…but the discipline that followed was a life long lesson.
Today, an individual can only imagine the dire affect on such a young and sheltered life, upon awakening on December 1, 1864…with great and blessed joy of being alive and then coming up and out of the Carter basement into the overwhelming hurt and horror of hundreds of dead bodies of soldiers lying on top of one another ten fold. The Lotz family was never able to recover its struggling life in Franklin, Tennessee following the Civil War. Attempts were mightily made…but because of poverty, the family was forced to leave the home in which Mr. Lotz took such pride, as he had built the structure himself.
They migrated west first to Memphis, Tennessee for a brief time and then via covered wagon all the way to California. It was in the autumn of 1870 that the Lotz family arrived in San Jose, California where they settled. There Matilda received her first true art lessons from her older brother Paul and other artists employed locally by Wrights Photography Gallery.
In 1874, she began a six-year course of study under Virgil Williams at the school of design in San Francisco. While attending that school she won several gold medals and graduated with highest honors. Matilda was also a pupil of William Keith and was able in the 1880’s to further her art study in Paris, France under Felix Barrias and the famous animal painter Van Marcke.
While in Paris she received an honorable mention for her work exhibited at the Paris Salon and was awarded two gold medals by the Paris Academy of Painting (the first woman ever to be honored by the Academy). She traveled extensively in Europe and Egypt, as a single un-chaperoned woman, something which for the times a woman simply did not do. Despite her work load, she was frequently commissioned to paint portraits of royal families throughout Europe.
Matilda found time to return to visit her family in California. While at home she was commissioned to paint the portrait of George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst. Matilda’s painting of George Hearst hangs today in The Hearst Castle. Matilda was also retained to paint the portrait of former California Governor Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University. That portrait remains on display at Stanford University.
After leading a unique and noteworthy artistic life, she died in Tata, Hungary on Feb. 21, 1923. On view at the Lotz House is an early California oil painting done on board. It depicts a trio of sheep under a blue sky while enjoying green grass. It was painted and signed by Matilda Lotz in the late 1880’s or early 1890’s when she returned to California.
Today, Matilda Lotz is recognized as one of California’s premiere early female artists and her work is highly prized and sought after.