Leopold Gould Seyffert (January 6, 1887-June 13, 1956) was an American artist. Living first in Colorado then Pittsburgh, his career brought him eventually to New York, via Philadelphia and Chicago. In New York the dealer Macbeth established him as one of the leading portraitists of the 20th century and his over 500 portraits continue to decorate the galleries, rooms and halls of many of America’s museums and institutions.
Included in the many people that Seyffert painted were America's cultural, business and political elite and by the early 1940s Henry Clay Frick, Fritz Kreisler, Andrew Mellon, Elizabeth Arden, Samuel Gompers, John Graver Johnson, Charles Lindbergh and David Sarnoff. In addition to the prestige of such commissions, Seyffert was recipient of a long string of prizes and honors given by the major American art organizations and museums. In his many non-commissioned paintings (like the paintings of children by his older contemporaries, Robert Henri and George Bellows, he painted with a vigorous brushwork and palette that sometimes took into consideration more modern color and other expressive choices. As a young artist, Seyffert traveled three times to Europe in 1910, 1912, and 1914.
Like many young artists he painted from Velasquez in the Prado and was influenced by Hals, Van Gogh and Goya. During these trips he used unique and different people as models and like Van Gogh he wanted ordinary people as subjects. Their unique faces and colorful costumes inspired some of his earliest works. Later his portraits, nudes and flower still lifes kept the lessons learned from these years while adding a more refined and simpler style. Seyffert’s life and career spanned the first half of the 20th Century. He lived, taught and painted in several historic cities and many of his sitters played a significant role in American history.
Leopold Seyffert’s ancestors' origins were in the Saxony region of Germany hailing from Zwikau, near Leipzig, Germany. His grandfather and father, Hermann (at age 4) arrived in New York in 1854. The family traveled to St. Louis and then went west settling with other German immigrants in Missouri.
Leopold was born in the town of California, Moniteau County in 1887, the second youngest of seven, to Hermann and Emma Tweihaus Seyffert. The following year his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado where they built a cabin in the foothills of the Cheyenne Mountains on the Cheyenne Creek, near what is today the Broadmoor Hotel Resort. In 1890 his father died after falling off a roof, leaving all the family having to work or marry early. Leopold’s earliest art exposure came from his briefly studying with an artist named La Salle but also he painted cakes in the local bakery and glass eyes for a taxidermist. His older brother Lou moved to Pittsburgh and after getting a job in the office of Standard Oil geologist John Worthington, he sent for “Lee” and their mother to move east. In 1904, en route they visited the St. Louis World’s Fair where he saw his first painting exhibition. Once in Pittsburgh Leopold began working as an office boy for Worthington and his artistic talent came to the attention of his boss. For two years he studied at the Stevens Art School while living with the Worthington family and later was loaned the money to attend the Pennsylvania Academy, a debt he paid off with many portraits of their family.
Starting in 1906 until 1913 he studied at the Academy with Thomas Pollock Anschutz, William Merritt Chase, Cecilia Beaux and Hugh H. Breckenridge. During these lean years he worked at the local boys club and as a semi-professional baseball player, while his commissions began. Thanks to the recommendations of William Merritt Chase he painted Chase’s lawyers daughter, Libby Deyoung, who later married Sylvan Levin. Chase also bought a portrait he did of his wife Helen Fleck. He did many copies of works in the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia and these paintings, from 1905-1915 are little known and still hang in many spots in and around the city.
He won the Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1925 and that same year had solo exhibitions at Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Ohio and the Grand Central Art Galleries, New York. He was elected to full membership to the National Academy of Design and he visited his family in Paris, where he painted My Family, Brooklyn Museum. He served on the annual art jury at the National Academy for the following ten years.
He became an avid gardener and began painting flower still lifes. For the following 10 years he spent time between his country home in Connecticut and New York. In 1946 he was honored with the Gold Medal of Honor at the Allied Artists Exhibition, New York. At this point in his life his health began to deteriorate from his smoking and drinking, though his commissions continued. In 1953 while he was painting two of the National Gallery’s (Washington, DC) founders, Rush and Samuel Kress, his wife Bobbi died. Both his boys, Peter and Richard (formerly Leopold, Jr.), were living in Peru. He painted his last portrait of Frank Porter Graham and also during his last years a new model and companion, Ramona, lived with and cared for him until his death from esophageal cancer in Bound Brook, New Jersey, in 1956.