Random Thrift Store Encounter Leads to Artist Sleuthing

Sometimes the oddest random encounter leads to sleuthing. In this case, a visit to the Salvation Army Family Store in Mundelein led to my interest in an artist known as Countess Zichy, as well as the NYC-based publisher Edward Gross that printed reproductions of many of her paintings. Erzsebet Podvinecz, often went by the name Maria, but painted under the name Countess Maria Zichy after she emigrated to the U.S.

Zichy Ben Franklin

Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Maria Podvinecz was born in Budapest, Hungary on June 29, 1893 to Daniel Podvinecz and Hermina Racz (Rosenberg). Daniel Podvinecz was somewhat famous in his own right, an industrialist who built motors and motorcars. In 1901, at the tender age of 25, Daniel and his 24-year-old partner Vilmos Heisler, started assembling Austrian Leesdorfer cars. Their work is acknowledged as important in the creation of MÁG (later known as Magomobil – Hungarian General Machine Factory Corp.), the most important Hungarian vehicle manufacturer before World War II, based in Budapest.

At age 12, Erzsebeth demonstrated enough artistic talent to warrant studies with Mixsa (Max) Thein, a noted Budapest painter and teacher. By 14, she was studying at the Fine Arts High School (Kepzomuveszeti Foiskola) of Budapest. She next went to Paris and studied at the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere under Émile-René Ménard. After returning to Hungary, she studied for a short period in 1908 at the Royal Hungarian Academy, now the National Academy of Art and with the well-known Hungarian painter János Pentelei Molnár. She worked in Munich at the school of Hermann Groeber and at the Knirr School. She returned to exhibit in Budapest at the Mucsarnok and at the Nemzeti Szalon. The Catalogue of the Nemzeti Szalon for March/April 1915 lists her paintings (numbers 190 through 222) with a total value of well over 136,000 Korona, a substantial sum at the time.

She married Endre Gyula Johann Kasimir Emmerich Géza Zichy in Budapest on November 19, 1919. Erzsebet and Endre went to America for the first time the same year that they were married. An early publicity article about them stated that she had been the court painter of the Hapsburgs and the Communist regime of Béla Kun had threatened to cut off her hands. It was further implied that her husband had been threatened as he belonged to the landholding aristocracy. They started out in New Orleans, followed by El Paso, Texas, taking refuge with her aunt, Eugenia Schuster and her family; already established as leading citizens of that city. During that visit, Erzsebet painted portraits of well-known local residents of El Paso and earned a respectable income.

From El Paso, they apparently went on to New York City, moving to an apartment at 525 W. 135th Street. They returned to Hungary for a visit in June 1921, as the Horthy regime had reestablished order in the country. Later that year, along with her sister Stephanie, the couple sailed on the S.S. Kroonland from Antwerp to NYC, arriving on December 1. A fact revealed by the immigration records was that Endy was a mere 5’5″ tall, the same height as his wife and sister-in-law.

At some point following her arrival in the U.S., Erzsebet started painting under the name Countess Maria Zichy. During the 1930s, she and her husband repeatedly visited Europe. Countess Zichy developed renown in the U.S. as a portraitist for the elite classes. In addition to painting portraits, she started teaching, first at the YWCA, then at the City Center Galleries. Eventually she founded the Countess Zichy Academy of Art in NYC. This catered generally to wealthy socialites, but helped foster some real artistic talent. She liked to paint flowers and her agent took one of these flower paintings, done solely as a teaching exercise, selling it en route to the gallery at which it was supposed to be exhibited.

Zichy Chrysanthemums & Blackeyed Susans

Following this sale, a lucrative contract was signed with Edward Gross Company, a large NYC-based publisher of art prints in business from 1908-1951, Watson Guptill a book publisher specializing in art books, and Grumbacher, the artist material and supply company. Her sole seascape was available in print format as a premium of the Triple S Stamp booklet, which rewarded Grand Union grocery shoppers for their loyalty. The contract with Grumbacher featured Countess Zichy demonstrating their products at exhibits. In one promotion, she was to paint a portrait on the spot for a participant at an event. In 1961, Countess Zichy wrote a book, Flower Painting, its Art and Technique, published by Watson Gupthill.

One of her paintings is in the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest. It was painted and donated as a benefit for wounded soldiers during World War I. This is the only Podvinecz signed work found in Budapest, as of 2008.

Countess Zichy died of a heart attack during a visit to Europe on July 20, 1962 in Baden Baden, Germany, at age 69. Her remains are buried in Somers, New York in the Ivandell Cemetery along with her mother and the remains of her two sisters and brother-in-law. When I searched this, her grave record did not come up. A scholarship has been endowed by the family in her name – the Countess Maria Zichy Award, at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota, Florida.

A spokesman for Edward Gross said at the time of her death that hundreds of thousands of her prints were in circulation. These prints are available for very little money on eBay, Etsy, and at thrift stores. The example I saw that led to this article had a price tag of just $1.94! I passed it up, not knowing at that time, a thing about the artist known as Countess Zichy.

Zichy Japanese Lanterns

Primary Source: AskArt (Information courtesy of Peter G. Bakos, Budapest, the artist’s nephew)

21 Comments:

  1. I just came a cross this painting ….Chrysanthemums and Blackeyed Susans by Countess Zichy. My father gave it to me as he got it at an auction. I can tell it’s old, it has the original paper on the back and has some numbers written on the back in pencil. Also has sticker on back that says Publication of NEW YORK Chrysanthemums and Blackeyed Susans by Countess Zichy. I wish I could find out more about this painting. I don’t know if it’s an original or a printed copy. It does need to be cleaned.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Deborah – very cool that you found my article and have a piece by Countess Zichy. Chances are it is a print, but if you can take a digital photo of it, I will be happy to make an educated guess.

  2. I just found out about this painting hanging in my hall. It was bought in upstate New York about 35 years ago. It is a signed oil painting of large flowers in a bowl. It is about 36 by 30 inches in a gold frame. Signed in lower right Countess Zichy with the Z oversize. Is it a genuine or a copy?

    • There is absolutely no way that anyone could make an educated guess if this is real without seeing it. I would suggest that you take it to a local art expert who will be able to tell immediately if it is real upon inspection.

  3. Peter Gordon Bakos

    Thanks for posting this and for your use of my biographic information about my aunt. It is plain that someone has added some further information as there is more about her studies and about my grandfather’s company than I knew about.

    • Thank you so much for writing, Peter. Your aunt was an extraordinary woman and I am glad you posted the biographical information about her. Without that, I would not have been able to solve the mystery surrounding my thrift store encounter. Do you have any of her original paintings?

  4. I have a friend who was watching Antiques Roadshow a few years back and the presenter had a print of Buttercups. The art expert stated that the print was not worth a whole lot, but that Bill Gates was looking for the # 14 signed Buttercups. The expert stated it was last traced to a thrift shop in Virginia and was glued to the back of another watercolor…my friend has the # 14 Buttercups.

    She purchased it in Virginia and had hung the painting in her hall…quickly checking she found the Buttercups glued on the back. Do you have any ideas about its worth?

    • As the Antiques Roadshow expert said, these prints are not worth much. I just checked completed and sold auctions of Countess Maria Zichy prints on ebay. Most did not sell, but those that did were in the $9.99 to $14.00 price range. Original paintings were much higher but none of them sold on ebay.

  5. Thanks for the quick reply!

  6. Hello, I have two prints that says on the back:

    Publication of E/CO New York. Asters Z33 by Countess Zichy and the other is Little Dahlias by Countess Zichy. Their frames are simple – a creamy color with dark brown thin edging around the outer part of the frame and then close to the print itself is a turquoise thin line. They have thin brown paper on the back with the cream-colored tag with the information printed on them. I’ve had them for about 30 years. Could you tell me if they might be worth anything? I’m just curious. Thank you.

    • The prints by Countess Zichy generally sell in the $10 to $20 range with frames on ebay. Many don’t sell at all. The large original oil paintings command far higher prices, but are scarce.

  7. I have a painting that I inherited from my grandmother that is a floral arrangement. It is a painting, not a print, Signed Countess Zichy. It measures roughly 20″ by 30″. I have tickets to an upcoming Antiques Roadshow and am thinking of taking this for an appraisal. It is in excellent condition in a beautifully gilt frame. Do you think this would be worth taking to the Roadshow? Thanks Lucy

    • I cannot tell you for certain whether it’s worth bringing, but having watched Antiques Roadshow for years, I would say, go for it! I would be very curious to see if their experts have expertise on Countess Zichy.

  8. jtlt1980@embarqmail.com

    Thanks for your reply. I will take it … I have always been curious about it. I will reply with their appraisal amount after we go in July.

  9. Hi All, I bought this at the Salvation Army Thrift store for .99 but I could tell that it was a quality painting. Thank you for your information on Countess Zichy! I loved reading about her … to me, knowing her story makes this more valuable.

  10. Carol McFarland

    I have a pair of very large original floral oil paintings that are signed and framed. Plus many original prints that were gifts from Zichy to my adopted grandmother; they were very good friends in the art world. Often wondered what the value is on these pieces.

  11. I have the painting Apple Blossom Time (Z28) publication of Edward Gross Co. by Countess Zichy
    Could you tell me if there is any value.

    • Only the original paintings have significant value. Most are printed reproductions – the frames are often worth more than the pictures. Given that your picture says publication of Edward Gross Co, it is a reproduction. These numbered in the tens of thousands, so while they are pretty, have little value.

  12. The Zichys were friends of my neighbors. Maria gave them a painting of peonies. I always liked it and it was passed on to me in 1975. They were a lovely couple and I cherish the painting. I only pray that one of my nieces or nephews doesn’t take it and donate it to a thrift store. They don’t seem interested in antiques.

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