Gerda Matejka-Felden

* 29.04.1901 (Dehlingen/Elsass) 27.12.1984 (Vienna) Austria
Fields of activity: painter, art teacher
Author: Waltraud Weichselberger

Gerda Matejka-Felden

Gerda Matejka-Felden was a painter and an art teacher.

Despite the opposition and indignation of the academic elite she founded the Adult Education Center of Arts (“Künstlerische Volkshochschule”) in Vienna and thus made art accessible to broader and less privileged parts of the population.

Matejka-Felden was the daughter of the pastor Emil Felden and Marie Felden who stemmed from a noble family in Prussia. While she was attending a college for wealthy daughters in Bremen she got private education in painting from 1911 on. At the age of thirteen she went to an art school in Bremen, at the age of 16 she worked there already as an assistant. In 1918 she was granted an allowance by the city of Bremen for the painter college in Worpswede. From 1919 to 1924 she studied painting, illustration and applied graphics at the “Akademie der Graphischen Künste” (Academy of Graphic Arts) in Leipzig. Thus she belonged to the first generation of female students at art colleges in Germany, as women had only got access to the study of arts from 1919 on – due to the gender equality determined in the constitution of Weimar.

In 1924 she relocated to Vienna. There she worked as a freelance artist for various journals and magazines and illustrated books. Her first marriage with an author named Kossak was divorced after seven years. In 1932 Gerda married Viktor Matejka - a painter as well. Having been a fiery anti-Fascist he got detained in deported to Dachau in 1938. Thereupon Gerda was not allowed to work any more.

Her efforts for alleviating her husband’s conditions of imprisonment and his release from the concentration camp –which took place in 1944 – her tenacity became already apparent.

In 1945 she got a lectorship at the Masterschool for Education of Arts in the Academy of Graphic Arts at Schillerplatz in Vienna, which was temporary at first. In 1946 she took over the leadership of the Masterschool, in 1947 she was appointed an extraordinary professor. In 1946/47 Gerda Matejka-Felden founded an association called “Künstlerische Volkshochschule” (Adult Education Center of Arts). This league was housed in the building of the academy which caused enormous indignation in the academic elite – even if it was only in the basement. Gerda Matejka-Felden defended her project of providing access to art for a broader audience persistently against all oppositions. Although since 1949 a disciplinary enquiry had been running against her and she was excluded from her teaching at the academy until 1951, she sticked to her work in the souterrain. To admit those applicants for the Academy of Arts who were refused by the examining board in her association Gerda considered her most important task..

In 1950 the Adult Education Center of Arts offered 23 courses , the pictures of the participants were exhibited in Vienna as well as in Germany for several times. Due to the great success the “Vienna Art School” was founded, which was connected closely with the Adult Education Center of Arts.

Although Gerda was further hostiled by the academic elite she achieved numerous distinctions already during her lifetime. She was nominated as an ordinary university teacher by the president of Austria and was invited by several foreign cultural institutions to hold lessons.

In 1962 she exhibited her own paintings in Bremen, in 1963 the Adult Education Center of Arts finally relocated into Lazarettstreet 27 and the location at Schillerplatz became again deserted and reserved for the elite..

On the occasion of her 65th birthday two exhibitions were arranged in the Vienna Art House – one with works of the jubilarian and a second one with works of her students at the Adult Education Center of Arts..

In 1967 she was appointed the degree of an Ordinaria and received the „Goldenes Ehrenzeichen für Verdienste um die Republik Österreich“ (the most important honour which is currently assigned in Austria), in 1970 the „großes goldene Ehrenzeichen von Stadt und Land Wien“ (honour assigned by the city of Vienna). In 1972 she quit her job at the academy and committed herself solely to the public education project.

During her last years of life Gerda Matejka-Felden suffered from depressions and diabetes. After two months of hospital stay she died on the 27th of December 1984. She was buried in a grave of honour of the city of Vienna at the Central Cemetery.

In 2011 a leisure park was named after her.

Author/Translation: Waltraud Weichselberger


Sources:, Autorin Karin Nusko‎

Photocredits: Gerda Matejka-Felden, Österreichisches Volkshochschularchiv, author unknown,