Jan Matulka was born in 1890 in Bohemia. He studied art for two years in Prague before coming to the United States with his family in 1907. Matulka attended the National Academy of Design from 1908 to 1917 where he became the first recipient of the Joseph Pulitzer traveling scholarship. With this award came Matulka’s first financial independence and allowed him to travel to Florida and the Southwest. When he returned to New York, his work had taken on a marked change as he had adopted a more abstract style. His artistic style changed again after his first visit to Paris in 1919. His exposure to Cubism directly affected his work, thereafter.
In 1926, Matulka had his first one-man exhibit, which included early watercolors and cubist- inspired cityscape lithographs. He became interested in politics and began producing illustrations for the “New Masses”, a magazine oriented to the communist experiment. Matulka’s illustrations often focused on the plight of the working class and expressed the satirical side of the artist’s personality.
Matulka taught at the Art Students League from 1929 to 1931. His teachings inspired many later-popular artists, including Dorothy Dehner, David Smith, George McNeil and I. Rice Pereira. During the late 1930s, Matulka painted abstract murals for the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project. Matulka continued to work until his death in New York City in 1972.