Felix Bernard Lieftuchter was an artist who was born in Cincinnati in on Oct. 29, 1882. He produced at least six major church decorations, worked with mosaics and engaged in portraiture.
In 2014, I worked on a restoration of his work in an Ohio church, and you can see more about that in this blog post.
Apparently when he was 15, he went back to Germany with his family and it was at that time or shortly after that he began school in Munich. During this period he apparently went to Italy and other parts of Europe to study church decorations. At some point he returned to the US.
He had a relationship with the architect John T. Comes who was author of the 1920 book “Catholic Art and Architecture”. This seems to be where he got many of his Church commissions. Comes appears to have the idea to not add any more vanishing points to the churches he designed. So he didn’t want decorations that had tromp l’oiel elements. Leiftuchters mural work is very flat, byzantine in character. Whether this is why Lieftuchter generally used flat designs, or it is why Comes chose him is uncertain.
I have two documented assistants. When he painted the murals in Pittsburgh’s St. Agnes’ church he was assisted by two female art students from Pittsburgh, both about 20 years old. Their names were Helen Hartz and Ann Murray.
He was active with mosaics either as a designer or maker and has a documented association with the Ravenna Mosaic Company, St. Louis, MO.(this citation disappeared from the web, but I recall reading it).
Denis Mcnamara purchased this landscape below at auction in 2020.
He spent time or lived in Cincinnati, Chicago, Munich, Toledo, Pittsburgh, New York City, Miami and Mexico City.
Late in his life he lived in Mexico City, definitely between 1968 and 1972 (at age 91) where he engaged in portraiture. Apparently, he was a resident at a hotel called the Casa Gonzales. Pictures of their rooms show antique portraits on the walls that may be by Lieftuchter. I also found a video on Youtube that show a hotel called the Casa Gonzales that have portraits on the wall that may be his work (look starting 1:52 in this video). It’s almost certainly the same place as the videomakers say that it’s been run by the same family for 4 generations. I wonder if Mexico City is where he died as I can’t find any death dates .
A women named Ursula Li had her portrait painted there, and here is what she said in this article:
“Casa Gonzalez had a lovely dining room and it is there where I met Mr. Lieftuchter. I soon found out that he was a permanent guest there and that he was a painter. He asked me to sit for a portrait and I was happy to oblige. I was only there about two weeks or so and had a lot of meetings and activities going on. I don’t remember the number of sittings I had, probably no more than six, and none of these could have been very long. The sittings took place in his room. There were a number of unfinished portraits lining up against the wall.
“He did not talk much about himself and was very reserved/measured in his conduct, but kind and I got the feeling that there was an occasional twinkle in his eyes/heart. I also had no idea that he was in his late 80s when he did my portrait. His dress was always impeccable. He may have given the portrait to me because he realized that I was not a regular tourist and short of cash. Also, I cannot find his signature on the portrait. Maybe he felt that it did not represent his best achievement, (it wasn’t completely finished) or he simply forgot it. Months later, I sent him $50 and I was kind of sad when I never heard from him again. He told me that he had done paintings in churches, and I remember that he said he did some in California.”
Unless noted, I believe these are whole church decorations painted in Keim paint.
- Cathedral of the Madeleine, Salt Lake city, Utah
- St. Aloysius Church, Bowling Green, Ohio
- Holy Rosary Cathedral,Toledo, Ohio
- St. Joseph’s Cathedral – Wheeling, West Virginia
- St. Agnes’ Church Apse in Cleveland, Ohio, (destroyed By fire 1975)
- St. Agnes Church, Carlow University, Pittsburgh, PA.
- St. Columbia, Johnston, PA. (oil on canvas mural)
- The Toledo Central Catholic High School Chapel
- Saint Vincent De Paul, Buffalo, NY. (1924-1926) Mural and Mosaics
- There may also be some over-painted murals in Rochester, NY in churches that were designed by Architect John Comes or his surviving partners, Thomas, Perry & McMullen.
I spent an enormous amount of time trying to find information about Lieftuchter. And I feel with very limited success. Biographical information is thin and there is a lot of uncertain information in this biography. Almost everything reliable I found is here or linked to from here. At the bottom of this post are some newspaper clipping with interviews. Any one who can supply more information that can be added would be greatly appreciated.
Lieftuchter, Felix (Birth, 1883-10-29). A pupil of Frank Duveneck and Franz Von Stuck ( reference: American Art Annual, Volume 14, 1917, p.549)
Here is a link to a 1920’s booklet printed by Cornell University and written by Anne O’Hare McCormick about St, Agnes Church in Cleveland , Ohio
In a letter dated April 7, 1972, in response to a query from Monsignor William H. Mc Dougall, (about the Cathedral of the Madeliene) then the cathedral’s pastor, about how the murals were painted, Lieftuchter wrote, “I painted five or six cathedrals in the United States. I was about 30 years old when I worked on the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. It was during World War I, I think about midway through the war. I stayed in Salt Lake City about a year and have never returned since. I think, as I recall, that I was paid about $7,000 for my work in the cathedral.”
Thanks to Kevin Hammer and his blog on Ohio regional liturgical art “CatholicToledo” and the Carnegie Clipping Library in Pittsburgh who helped me find much of this information.