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Matthíasdóttir, Louisafree

Icelandic-born American, 20th century, female.

Born 20 February 1917, in Reykjavík (Iceland); died 26 February 2000, in Delhi (New York).

Painter. figures, landscapes, animals, people.

New York School, Contemporary Realism.

Louisa Matthíasdóttir’s parents were very supportive of her painting and sent her to Copenhagen to study at the School of Commercial Art in 1934. Her parents brought Louisa to Paris in 1938 to study under Marcel Gromaire and to expose her to French artists such as Henri Matisse and other Fauvist painters. When she returned to Iceland, Matthíasdóttir became well-known throughout the Icelandic avant-garde art scene, which was a very small and close-knit circle. Her intention was to be in a more thriving arts environment, which prompted her to move to New York in 1942. She studied under Hans Hofmann at his Manhattan art school, which was a hotbed for the New York School artists. In New York City, she met painters Jane Freilicher, Robert De Niro Sr., Nell Blaine, Larry Rivers, and Leland Bell, among others. Matthíasdóttir and the aforementioned artists, along with others such as Philip Pearlstein, Alex Katz, Jane Wilson, and Lois Dodd, developed a style called Contemporary Realism that brought renewed relevance to representational painting. Matthíasdóttir was active in the formation of New York City’s shift from uptown to downtown and co-founded New York’s first co-operative gallery called Jane Street Gallery in 1942. She had her first solo show at the Jane Street Gallery in 1948. Leland Bell and Matthíasdóttir were married in 1944 and remained together until Bell’s death in 1991. The couple had a daughter, Temma Bell, who is also a painter.

Matthíasdóttir’s style was influenced by the French Fauvist painters André Derain and Matisse, as well as avant-garde Scandinavian artists such as Edvard Munch. She developed a style of realistic painting that incorporated several elements from Abstract Expressionism such as expressive brushwork and emphasising the flatness of the picture plane by blending the figure and ground. Her unique painterly style broke down complex form and imagery into bold geometric shapes and colour. Her subject matter largely included landscapes, which depicted Icelandic rural scenes, woodlands in Maine, and small town life. Other subject matter included self-portraiture, portraits, and still-lifes.

Matthíasdóttir was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Icelandic Order of the Falcon (1988); The American-Scandinavian Foundation Cultural Award (1996); and was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. The Estate of Louisa Matthíasdóttir is represented by Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York.

Group Exhibitions

1963, Five American Realists, Knoedler Gallery, New York

1964, Indiana University, Bloomington

1966, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City

1966, Proctor Art Gallery, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson

1967, Austin Art Center, Trinity College, Hartford

1967, Painting and Sculpture Today, John Herron Art Museum, Indianapolis

1972, Leland Bell, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Stoppenbach and Delestre, London

1973, A Family of Painters, Canton Art Institute, Canton

1973, Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

1975, Painterly Representation, Ingber Gallery, New York

1978, Drawing and Painting on Paper, Kemper Gallery, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City

1981–1982, Contemporary American Realism Since 1960, Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia (traveled to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Oakland Museum, Oakland)

1984, New Vistas – Contemporary American Landscapes, Hudson River Museum, Yonkers

1987, Stoppenbach and Delestre, London

1991, Twentieth Century and Contemporary American Art, Callen McJunkin, Charleston

1992, Color as Subject, The Artists’ Museum, The Police Building, New York

1993, Unstill Still Life, University of Rhode Island, Kingston

1994–1996, Relatively Speaking, Sweet Briar College Art Gallery, Sweet Briar (travelled to Newhouse Gallery of Contemporary Art, Snug Harbor Cultural Center, New York; Rockford Museum of Art, Rockford)

1996, Women in the Visual Arts, Hollins College Art Gallery, Roanoke

1998, Art and Friendship II: Selections from the Nell Blaine Collection, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

1999, Distilled Life: A Still Exhibition by Zeuxis, Prince Street Gallery, New York (travelled to the University of Newport News; The Washington Studio School, Washington, DC; Erector Square Gallery, New Haven; The Painting Center, New York)

2000, Iceland Contemporary Portraits, Alpha Gallery, Boston

2000, Women’s View: Two Generations of Women Artists from New York, The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, Haverford College, Haverford

2001, Reconfiguring the New York School, Center for Figurative Painting, New York

2003, The Jane Street Gallery: Celebrating New York’s First Artists Cooperative, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

2004, Memorial Art Center, Auburn, New York

2005, Helion and American Art, National Academy Museum, New York

2005, On the Road Again, Marymount College of Fordham University, New York

2006, Modernism and the Hofmann School, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, New York

2007, Louisa Matthíasdóttir & Leland Bell: Still Lifes from a Shared Life, Hafnarborg, Hafnarfjörður

2009, From Unuhus to Eighth Street, Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

2009, Home, Westport Arts Center, Westport

2009, Table, Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects & Gallery Schlesinger, New York

Solo Exhibitions

1948, Jane Street Gallery, New York

1958, Tanager Gallery, New York

1960, University of Connecticut, Storrs

1970, Albrecht Art Museum, St Joseph

1972, Litchfield Art Center, Litchfield

1972, Windham College, Putney

1978, University of New Hampshire, Durham

1982, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley

1987, Bryggens Museum, Norway

1987, Gross McLeaf Gallery, Philadelphia

1988, Meredith Long & Company, New York

1991, Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, New York

1993, Reykjavik Municipal Art Museum, Reykjavik

1994, Donald Morris Gallery, Inc., Birmingham

1996, Seeing and Painting: The Art of Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Kendall Campus Art Gallery of Miami-Dade Community College, Miami (travelled to The American University, Washington, DC; Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre; New York Studio School, New York; Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle; The Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg; Wright State University Art Gallery, Dayton)

1997, The Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg

1998, Wright State University Art Gallery, Dayton

2002, Flanders Gallery, Minneapolis

2003, Hafnarborg, Hafnarfjörður

2004–2006, Louisa Matthíasdóttir: A Retrospective, Scandinavia House: Nordic Center in America, New York (travelled in 2005 to Nordic Embassy Complex, Berlin; North Atlantic House, Copenhagen; Akureyri Art Museum, Akureyri)

2011, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York

2012, Pastels, Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, New York

2017, Louisa Matthíasdóttir: Calm, Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

2017, Louisa Matthíasdóttir: Girl with a Bike, Akureyri Art Museum, Akureyri

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Bloomington (Eskenazi MA): Still Life with Sausage and Bean Pot (1972, oil on canvas)

London (Tate): Still Life with Frying Pan and Red Cabbage (1979, oil on canvas)

Reykjavik (Reykjavik AM): Self-Portrait with Green Shoes (1993, oil painting); Bour (1991, oil painting); Self-Portrait in Brown Coat (1982, oil painting); Self-Portrait with Green Hat (1965, oil painting); Outing (1968, oil painting); Temma (1966, oil painting); Lineup (1978, oil painting); Untitled (n.d., oil painting); Bottle Setting (1984, oil painting); Gul (1990, oil painting); Þingvallavatn (1989, oil painting); Icelandic Landscape with Two White Sheep (1989, oil painting); Klapparstigur (1983, oil painting)

Washington, DC (Smithsonian American AM): Self-Portrait with Yellow Table (1981, oil on canvas)

Auction Records

London, 31 Oct 2006: Reykjavik Harbour (1981, oil on canvas, 34 × 48 ins/86.5 × 122 cm) GBP 24,000

New York, 6 April 2011: Farm (1983, oil on canvas, 28 × 40 ins/71.1 × 101.6 cm) USD 13,750

New York, 23 July 2014: Icelandic Landscape with sheep (n.d., oil on canvas 30 × 30 ins/76.2 × 76.2 cm) USD 16,250

New York, 14 June 2017: Three Sheep (1988, oil on canvas, 54 × 60 ins/137.2 × 152.4 cm) USD 43,750


  • Ashbery, John: ‘North Light’, ArtNews, vol 70, Feb 1972.
  • Perl, Jed/Rosenthal, Deborah/Fox Weber, Nicholas: Louisa Matthíasdóttir: Small Paintings, Hudson Hills, New York, 1986.
  • Cotter, Holland: ‘Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Survey of Paintings, 1930s–1990s’, The New York Times, 4 April 1997.
  • Perl, Jed: Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Nesutgafan Pub, Reykjavik, 1999.
  • Louisa Matthíasdóttir: Selected Paintings – October 11–November 15, 2008, exhibition catalogue, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 2008.