Mercedes Matter was born in New York in 1913. Her father, the American modernist Arthur B. Carles, had studied with Matisse. Her mother, Mercedes de Cordoba, was a model for Edward Steichen. Ms. Matter grew up in Philadelphia, New York and Europe.
She began painting under her father's supervision at age 6, and studied art at Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y., and then in New York City with Maurice Sterne, Alexander Archipenko and Hans Hofmann.
In the late 1930's, she was an original member of the American Abstract Artists organization and worked for the federal Works Progress Administration, assisting Fernand Léger on his mural for the French Line passenger ship company. Léger introduced her to Herbert Matter, the Swiss graphic designer and photographer, whom she married in 1939.
The Matters were active in the emerging New York art scene and also traveled frequently to Europe. Their closest friends included Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning. They were also close to Alberto Giacometti, who was an important artistic role model for Mrs. Matter and a frequent photographic subject for her husband.
In addition to her art and teaching, she wrote articles on artists, including Hofmann, Kline and Giacometti. She wrote the text for a book of her husband's photographs of Giacometti, published in 1987, four years after his death.