Zoltan Sepeshy arrived in Detroit, Michigan in 1921 wearing a sign reading: “Deliver to 209 Pasadena, Highland Park.” Immigration officials had placed the label on him because he could not speak English. Sepeshy was born in Kassa, Hungary and moved to America to live with an uncle as advised by his father. Prior to coming to the U.S., he had enjoyed a privileged existence as the only child of an aristocratic family. Sepeshy studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest and simultaneously at the Fine Arts Academy in Vienna. He earned degrees in art and art education and traveled throughout Europe with his father.
Sepeshy encountered a different lifestyle in his new country. He spent his first few years in the U.S. performing a range of menial jobs, including stacking lumber, whitewashing walls, window trimming, and selling books. He later worked as a draftsman for the important architect Albert Kahn. He continued to produce art during this time and his subjects included railroad bridges, factories, miners and city scenes. His patrons were the professionals in downtown Detroit, doctors and lawyers, who would buy what Sepeshy brought around in his suitcase.
By the 1930s, Sepeshy had become a successful and innovative painter, and an influential educator. He had a number of solo exhibitions in New York, from 1932 to 1956. He was the first Michigan artist to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and he earned the Carnegie medal in 1947. He became an instructor at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1930 and held various roles, ultimately becoming the Director in 1947, replacing the well-known architect Eliel Saarinen.
Tempera was Sepeshy’s chosen medium and one in which he excelled. He wrote a book on tempera technique in 1947. While his preferred medium was obvious, the artist did not like to be categorized, as put forth in an article he wrote entitled “I Don’t Like Labels” in The Magazine of Art in May of 1944. He asserted his belief about the importance of originality and creativity for artists in an address to a Cranbrook graduating class when he said: “The physicist can afford to be like other physicists – the businessman like other businessmen. The artist cannot afford to be and dare not be a replica of other artists” (Laurence Schmeckebier, Zoltan Sepeshy: Forty Years of His Work, Syracuse, New York, 1966: 19). Sepeshy certainly achieved originality with his 1940s high-style temperas.
Sepeshy spent his summers in a northern Lake Michigan town called Frankfort. Most of his high style 1940s tempera paintings depict the people, birds, docks, and landscape of this summer resort town, which is probably the setting for the scene in Grace.
Tempera on board
18 x 24 inches
Signed lower left
Midtown Galleries, New York Mrs. Louis Hausman, New York, acquired from the above on February 14, 1947
DuMouchelles Art Gallery, Detroit, Michigan Private Collection, Michigan, acquired from the above in 2005