Paul Matthews, lifelong painter of portraits, landscapes and other works, dies at 85
Paul Clement Matthews II, an artist and writer based in Lambertville, New Jersey and Keene, N.Y., whose paintings were shown at galleries and museums in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, died Jan. 15, 2019 in Hamilton, New Jersey, where he had been hospitalized with a chronic lung disease. He was 85.
Matthews’ work ranged from portraits and nudes done in a meticulous, realistic style, to majestic landscapes and cloudscapes of the Adirondack high peaks, to darker, dreamlike scenes that reflected a surreal inner world. Reviewing the New Jersey State Museum’s exhibition of 18 of Matthews’ paintings in 2003, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s art critic Edward Sozanski wrote, “While he paints in a style that effortlessly combines realism and expressionism, [Matthews] doesn’t construct narratives. He re-creates memories, and especially the way the mind constantly travels back and forth along a continuum connecting past and present…. The existential tension in these paintings is almost unbearable. Yet Matthews isn’t bleak, like Samuel Beckett, but psychologically penetrating, like Eugene O’Neill.”
In his New York Times review of the National Academy of Design’s 175th Annual Exhibition in 2000, critic Ken Johnson wrote, “Many pieces show exquisite intimacy, but the only painting that delivers the shock of real life is Paul Matthews’ Alice Neel-style full frontal picture of a woman giving birth.” The artist and critic Alexi Worth, a friend of the family, wrote in 2011 that Matthews’ portraits from the 1970s connect him with “a group of contrarian realists like Gregory Gillespie, William Beckmann, Mark Greenwold, Fairfield Porter, Philip Pearlstein and Alfred Leslie. There’s no question that Matthews’ best work, in its scrupulousness and psychological acuity, is on a par with theirs.”
Matthews’ work was honored with a 2011 retrospective at the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, as well as the one-person show in 2003 at Trenton’s New Jersey State Museum mentioned above. He is also well-represented in the Adirondack Experience museum in Blue Mountain Lake, after years as one of the region’s best-known landscape painters.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey on Oct. 28, 1933 to Thomas Stanley Matthews and Juliana Stevens Cuyler as the third of four sons, Matthews was named for his grandfather, who served as the fifth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey. He attended South Kent School in Connecticut and Kenyon College in Ohio.
After a two-year stint in the Army from 1955-57, Matthews graduated in 1960 from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, where he shared first prize in painting with Jerome Witkin.
Matthews’ career as an artist began in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and early 1960s, where he exhibited at Parke-Bernet Gallery, participated in the Museum of Modern Arts Lending Program and had his first solo show at the Zabriskie Gallery. After his marriage in 1964 to Lelia Barry, a theatrical and film actress to whom he was married for 54 years, the couple spent two years in Oxfordshire, England, then moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where they raised four children. Matthews passed most summers in upstate New York’s Adirondacks region, where his landscapes were frequently shown at the Atea Ring Gallery in Westport, as well as the Adirondack Museum, the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, SUNY-Albany and elsewhere.
In addition to the major exhibits in Trenton, New Jersey, Matthews’ work was shown in 36 other individual or group shows over the years, including Viridian Gallery, Walter Wickiser Gallery and the National Academy of Design in New York City; Philadelphia Art Alliance; Nexus Gallery (Philadelphia); Penn State University; Riverrun Gallery (Lambertville, New Jersey); the James A. Michener Museum (Doylestown, Pa.); Stover Mill Gallery (Erwinna, Pennsylvania); the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Classical Arts Center and other venues. His paintings are held in the permanent collections of the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Ottawa’s Canadian War Museum; the Adirondack Experience museum; the Birkenhead Gallery in Liverpool, England; and New York City’s Yeshiva University Museum, as well as dozens of private collections.
In his “Painting Notes: 2004-2006,” Matthews wrote, “In the long battle between painting how things look as opposed to how things feel, though I love both, it turns out that I really like best to paint the way they feel; which turns out to have a look of its own. Sometimes ‘look’ and ‘feel’ are one. That’s what I hope to make them in my painting.” Matthews wrote that painting “is my way of getting even with the world and making love to it at the same time. I paint to deserve to live.”
The documentary filmmaker Diana C. Frank directed a one-hour film, “The Risk Factor: Paul Matthews,” a portion of which aired on PBS in 2012. In recent years Matthews had focused on writing personal histories, and in 2016 Bauhan Publishing released Matthews’ memoir of his years at boarding school, “Now the Day Is Over.” His art and writings can be seen at www.paulmatthews.net.
Matthews was predeceased by two of his three brothers: Thomas S. Matthews Jr. and John P.C. Matthews. He is survived by his wife Lelia, his brother W. Alexander “Sandy” P. Matthews; four children: Thomas of Lambertville, New Jersey; Harry of Catskill; Hyla Matthews Heyniger of Washington D.C.; and Joshua of Brooklyn; a foster daughter, G. Addie Andino of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and six grandchildren.
A funeral service for Matthews will be held on Feb. 23 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, New Jersey, with a reception to follow. A memorial service will also be held in Keene Valley this summer, with a date to be determined.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Doctors Without Borders (doctorswithoutborders.org) or the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad (https://lnhars.com).