Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Karl Matzek (1895–1983)

by Sarah Engledow

This article was published:

Karl Matzek (1895-1983), painter, was born on 6 July 1895 at Graz, Austria, son of Czech-born Karl Matzek and his Austrian-born wife Maria, née Pichler. In 1901 the family moved to Mexico City where Karl, as a boy, won the first of some eight gold medals, from several countries, for his art. In 1911 he went to the United States of America. He travelled via Russia, whence he claimed to have received a medal from Tsar Nicholas II for his contribution to the panorama of the battle of Borodino. Working as a film extra and with a circus in California, he painted advertising and posters for the travelling troupe and married a trapeze artist. In World War I he reputedly fought with the Austrian cavalry on the Russian front.

In 1927-28 Matzek studied at the Academy of the Arts, Berlin, and in Vienna. A resident of Yugoslavia from about 1928, in February 1957 he married Darinka Pejic. He and his wife arrived in Sydney in February 1958 (he had visited Australia as a tourist in 1921), but soon moved to Melbourne. In Perth by 1960, he painted the Stations of the Cross for the Holy Family Catholic Church, Como, and a series of murals for the Church of Sts Peter and Paul at the Redemptorist Monastery, North Perth. He was naturalised on 29 January 1964. Moving back to Sydney, he painted scenes from the lives of Christ and the Serbian saints for the new St George Free Serbian Orthodox Church, Cabramatta.

In 1968 Matzek was commissioned to paint icons for St George’s Free Serbian Orthodox Church, Forrest, Canberra. Having installed the icons, he set about painting the church interior. His chef d’oeuvre, it is entirely covered with the artist’s representations of Biblical and historical scenes. The ceiling bears the crucifixion, the transfiguration and the resurrection of Lazarus. Panels on the walls, captioned in English and Serbian, depict individual saints and narrative scenes. Two twenty-metre murals evoke significant historical events, including the battle in 312 AD near Rome between the Serbian-born Roman emperor, Constantine, and Maxentius, and the Serbian-Ottoman battle of Kosovo in 1389. For the Tiber battle scene he painted about a thousand figures and hundreds of horses. The church is on the registers of the national estate and ACT heritage.

Installed in a flat behind the church and cared for by members of the women’s auxiliary, Matzek worked not for remuneration, but because it brought him happiness. In 1976 he stated that: ‘I would like to be remembered for doing something for people to enjoy and for this wonderful [free] country’. His Royal Talens oil paints, imported from the Netherlands, were purchased with money collected from church visitors. Working on a stepladder, the elderly artist would slump, drowsing, with an arm or a leg intertwined in the rungs to prevent a fall.

Matzek retained traces of his peripatetic and adventurous early life and a faint air of Bohemianism. Quietly content, he was essentially unreligious but converted from Catholicism to the Serbian Orthodox faith and adopted the name George. On 16 April 1983 he died in Canberra and was buried in the St Sava Monastery cemetery, Hall, ACT. It is not known if he had children.

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times, 8 June 1971, p 17
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 7 July 1976, p 26
  • Comity, no 3, 1977, p 4
  • private information.

Citation details

Sarah Engledow, 'Matzek, Karl (1895–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 July, 1895
Graz, Austria


16 April, 1983 (aged 87)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.