Son of Mattei’s Tavern Founder Created Images of Luminaries, Including a President, Santa Barbara Residents, and Visitors
Portraitist Clarence Mattei (1883-1945) captured images of notable figures on the local, national, and international stages of his time. But his roots are deep in Santa Barbara County, as the son of the founder of famed Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos. A new exhibit at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum “Clarence Mattei: Portrait of a Community,” on view now through May 2023, showcases the artist’s work in oil, pen, pencil, and charcoal from 1898 to 1945. It includes drawings made in Los Olivos from the artist’s teenage years, which are on view for the first time.
“This is an incredible look at one of our most well-known residents and a celebration of a career that spanned more than forty years,” said Museum Director Dacia Harwood. “We’re especially gratified to present the early drawings, which were recently gifted to us and have not been exhibited before.”
Admission to the Historical Museum is free. Hours are currently Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m. Visit www.sbhistorical.org.
At the height of his career, Clarence Mattei was among the most sought-after portraitists in the country, and created images of influential people, including a President, as well as prominent local residents and tourists visiting his El Paseo studio. But his beginnings were in Los Olivos, where his father, Swiss-Italian immigrant Felix, founded the stagecoach stop Mattei’s Tavern in 1886. It became a popular hotel and watering hole, a reputation that continues to this day.
Early works in the exhibition include oil portraits of Mattei’s family and Tavern regulars, along with early renderings of the locals who worked and hung around the Tavern, from cowboys to cooks to quirky characters. These drawings are on view for the first time.
Noted American portraitist John Singer Sargent met Mattei in London in 1905 and became a good friend, teacher, and mentor to the young artist. He encouraged Mattei to pursue his charcoal portraits, which the artist did beginning in 1914.
He became a sought-after artist for portraits and the new exhibition showcases how he captured luminaries of the era, such as U.S. President Herbert Hoover; artist John Singer Sargent; Henry S. Pritchett, astronomer and President of MIT; many inscribed with dedications from the artist.
Local civic leaders also commissioned portraits from philanthropist Amy DuPont (industrial heiress), Peggy Stow (daughter of Sherman and Ida Hollister Stow, who built Stow House), Thomas More Storke (publisher of the News-Press), and others. The exhibit also features several unnamed individuals, whom the public is invited to help identify.
What is believed to be among Mattei’s last works is also on view. The 1944 charcoal portrait inscribed “To Suzanne from Uncle Clarence” and is of his niece Suzanne Mattei. Clarence Mattei died in Santa Barbara on April 2, 1945.
Mattei’s Tavern, a Santa Barbara County historic landmark, recently reopened as the restaurant and bar as part of development of a new 67-room luxury resort named “The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern,” which is slated to open in February 2023.