He had a wide range of interests, and his command of historical detail was unrivaled. He could render costumes, weapons, architecture, and furnishings with authority and assurance. He was equally at home in ancient Rome, in the Italian Renaissance, or in the world of the Aztecs. But his specialty was World War 1.
His instincts for composition and staging came from years of studying the old masters, yet for the most part he managed to avoid conventional compositions or formulaic poses in favor of a relaxed truthfulness to nature and a vivid sense of action.
But his gifts went beyond the pedantic accuracy of documentary detail. He brought a sympathetic heart to his characters; nowhere is this more evident than the unforgettable painting of a World War I soldier lingering behind on a battle-scarred road to comfort his dying horse.
Matania’s ability to paint realistic tableaus from the pages of history would be impressive enough had he approached his craft in the normal way¬—that is, by producing dozens of preliminary studies, gathering actual props, sketching on location, and posing models.
He was fully capable of this kind of comprehensive method, but he more typically worked under tight deadlines, dispensing altogether with preliminaries, and laid down a final rendering on a white surface, guided by a vision fully formed in his head.
This would have been hard to believe were it not for eyewitnesses like Percy Bradshaw, who watched him paint a complex scene of a  cavalry soldier breaching a [Belgian] barricade. He started with a blank board with no sketches, and just started rendering. This is like tightrope walking without a net.
Here’s the finished picture. Bradshaw documented the process photographically in stages and published it in a portfolio that stunned Matania’s contemporaries.
Thanks to the work of Stuart Williams and Geoff Gehman, an art book on Matania is in the works from FHD Publishing's Book Palace imprint—with much higher quality reproductions than I’ve shown here. They've pushed back the pub date because they keep finding great new works. It will be worth the wait.
Detailed bio and collection of color illustrations, Link.
More from Book Palace, Link.
Other GurneyJourney posts
Matania at Work
Matania on Mary Ann Talbot (we own these originals)
Matania's Models and Props