Some people have it rough. Born into the East Coast cultural aristocracy in 1913, Mercedes Matter began life as a beloved and privileged artistic prodigy. Her father was Arthur B. Carles, a pioneer American abstract painter who studied with Matisse, showed at Alfred Stieglitz’s 291 gallery and exhibited work in the legendary Armory Show. He was also an unrepentant bohemian: long-haired and bearded, a lifelong alcoholic and womanizer. Her mother, Mercedes de Cordoba, was a Parisian correspondent for Vogue and a favorite model of photographer Edward Steichen. Her uncle Pedro was a star of Broadway and early Hollywood, and her aunt Sara was a famous fashion photographer and illustrator. Her father started her painting at the age of 6, and she spent her early teens touring the art capitals of Europe. After attending the progressive girls’ school Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, she moved to Manhattan and began studying with Hans Hofmann at the Art Students’ League.
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