Matthew Troyan solo exhibit New Britain Museum

Troyan Remembers,
The art of Matthew Troyan in Remembrance of the Holocaust Years

A Survivor, Transforming Pain into Art

Matthew Troyan (1913-2007) was graduated with high distinction from both the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, and the Academy of Fine Art at Dusseldorf. It was while studying at the Dusseldorf Academy he had the opportunity to be taught by Joan Miro, and even a one day class with Pablo Picasso.

In the period between that prestigious schooling, he survived 3 1/2 years in Nazi concentration camps ( Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and Ebensee), where, in addition to suffering the continual horrors and atrocities of that existence, he expected to face immediate execution on at least three separate occasions.

Troyan was first spared in Auschwitz due to his talent as an artist and his handsome bearing, which together made him a potential propaganda vehicle for the Nazis.

He was arrested in February, 1942, as a "traitor to the state" and was immediately transported to Auschwitz, where his mentor and director at the Warsaw Academy had been executed after being arrested for a similar charge in December 1941. The commandant there decided to spare Troyan's life if he would agree to paint portraits of Nazi officers, an arrangement which continued at the other two camps.

In one unforgettable episode, Troyan was forced to watch, at close range, while five of his friends were summarily shot in the head, one by one, the experience meant as a punishment to Troyan for providing his fellow prisoners with loaves of bread he had stolen from the camp bakery.

The third time Troyan survived execution was at first a postponement due to his artistic talent, but ultimately he was spared by a providential stroke of timing: the liberation of Ebensee Camp four days before his scheduled execution.

Although Troyan was given occasional small comforts because of his special standing as an artist, he also bore the daily forced labor and cruel living conditions of the camps, and was once beaten so severely that his right ear was all but torn off.

To his credit, as is documented in the writings of at least one fellow prisoner, Troyan did his best to use whatever comforts were available to him to aid others...although, as noted in the episode above, doing so carried mortal risks, some of which could not be foreseen.

Troyan's courage was also in evidence when he asked to be released from foot soldier duty in Warsaw and volunteered to join the Polish Cavalry in 1939, knowing instinctively that it would place him in the path of the expected Nazi invasion of Poland. Almost 70% of the Polish cavalry in the First and Second divisions, including all of the officers, were killed in the infamous Tuchola Forest slaughter. After this slaughter Troyan walked back to Warsaw to rejoin his army group.

Matthew Troyan Photo in Uniform
Matthew Troyan Young Soldier Poland 1938
Born February 19, 1913, in Kielce, Poland, Troyan was the youngest of seven, not including two younger siblings who died shortly after birth a year after Matthew was born.

The product of a traditional, heavily nationalist Polish Catholic upbringing, Troyan suffered a series of family tragedies, including the mysterious death of his father (a political activist) and one of his sisters (from an infected accidental wound) within a week of each other when Troyan was three years old. One of his brothers was executed by the Russians with a division of Polish soldiers in the Katyn massacre of 1942. From the time of his incarceration in the Nazi camps, Troyan was separated from his surviving family, never to see any of them again.

Yet his talent and spirit always drove Troyan forward, and in 1950, following his six years at the Dusseldorf Academy, from which he graduated as a master artist at the top of his class, he emigrated to the United States (as a "displaced person"). He ultimately became part of the New York group that included Pollack, Kline, Hofmann, and de Kooning. Kline described Troyan as one of the best--if not the best--colorists he ever knew.

Troyan eventually withdrew from the raucous West Village bar scene of his fellow artists related to an incident with Pollock in 1953 and spent the last decades of his life in relative seclusion at his home in rural Connecticut, painting commissions and occasionally exhibiting, but devoting most of his time to producing a span of artwork that is singularly his, a reflection of modern schools of art, but also deeply affected by his Holocaust experience, which can be seen in much of his work throughout the years. As late as the age of 85, Troyan stated, “Every day I can still smell the smoke from the burning bodies in the crematorium.”

Troyan's works have been rediscovered and curated thanks to the efforts of Dr. Robert Baker, proprietor of Circa Something Gallery located in Bellport, NY, the exclusive representative of the Troyan estate.

Baker, a retired neurosurgeon, has been an art collector since the mid 1960's, and became an active art dealer after his retirement. He was sought out by Troyan's widow, Mitzi, who, shortly after Troyan's death in 2007, invited Baker to come to Connecticut and review Troyan's work. Baker, himself a Polish-American, was immediately impressed by Troyan’s diverse oeuvre of work.

Baker has authored a book on Troyan's life titled: "A Date With A Monster: The Life and Works of Matthew Troyan, A Tribute to the Human Spirit", expected to be published in the late fall of 2013. He has also created a DVD of Matthew's life that runs about 16 minutes and can be viewed on You Tube by typing in Matthew Troyan.

An exhibition at the National Arts Club, from December 21, 2011 through January 13 2012 was the first broad showing of Troyan's work in North America, and included art that reflected Troyan's Holocaust experience both as the center of the work, and as an aspect that Troyan often subtly introduced to works that focused on subject matter as diverse as flowers and horses (the latter reflecting a lifetime enthusiasm).

The exhibition, which spanned a range of Troyan's periods, also included a portrait of the last Nazi officer that Troyan produced under order at the Ebensee Concentration Camp. The exhibit was acclaimed by art historians and museum curators that visited as very important in completing the post war art movement story. The Mayor of the City of New York presented Baker with a Proclamation establishing December 21, 2011 as Matthew Troyan Day in New York City. Baker, in his book says about Troyan that this was: “one man’s vision of the inherent strength in the Human Spirit and its ability to transmute horror into beauty”.

For more information on this extraordinary "lost master" of the post war expressionist movement please contact Dr. Baker at his Gallery at (631) 803 - 6706 or email him at, The fine art of Matthew Troyan in remembrance of the Holocaust years 
Contact:  Dr. Robert H. Baker - phone: 631.803.6706 - Circa Something Gallery, 117A south Country Road, Bellport, N.Y. 11713 - Copyright © 2013

all images copyrighted © by Dr. Robert H. Baker. Do not use without proper permissions.

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