Monday, August 23, 2010

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Self-Portrait with Red Hat, 1920s

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (1906-1996) was born in Vienna. Her father Edmund Motesiczky von Kesseleökeö was of ancient Hungarian nobility. A talented amateur cellist and devoted huntsman, he died when Marie-Louise was only three years old. Her mother Henriette came from an extremely wealthy and cultured family of Jewish bankers whose relations included many distinguished names from the social and intellectual life of Vienna (among them Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, and Henrik Ibsen). 

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, View from the Window, Vienna, 1925

The family had donated many art works to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and, in their palatial salon opposite the opera, Hugo von Hofmannsthal had read his first poems. Their own art collection at the family's country estate in Hinterbrühl was formidable.The family also made an impact on the origin of psychoanalysis, Motesiczky’s grandmother Anna von Lieben being one of Sigmund Freud’s early patients. Her case is recorded as Frau Cäcilie M. in the annals of Psychoanalysis.

 Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Psychoanalyst, n.d.

Aged 13, Motesiczky left school – a mistake, as she later admitted. She subsequently attended art classes in Vienna, The Hague, Frankfurt and Berlin. In 1926 she visited Paris where she rented a studio, and saw Max Beckmann from time to time. There she painted a first masterpiece (Paris Workman, below) and shortly afterwards a remarkable statuesque Self-portrait with Comb, now in the Belvedere, Vienna. A year later she was invited by Max Beckmann to join his master class at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main. Beckmann had been introduced to the Motesiczky family in 1920. He left a strong and lasting impression on Motesiczky both as a person and an artist and was to become a life-long friend. 

 Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Paris Workman, 1926

Motesiczky spent a decade quietly developing her artistic skills, exhibiting only once, in 1933, with the Hagenbund. In the wake of Nazi Germany's invasion of Austria in 1938, she had to  leave her native country, as her family included Jewish descent. Motesiczky’s older brother Karl, a Marxist, was a friend of Heimito von Doderer and a close collaborator of Wilhelm Reich. Karl refused to leave Austria and used the family house near Vienna to shelter Jewish friends. In 1943 Karl was denounced and sent to Auschwitz where he died shortly afterwards. 

 Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Portrait of Karl von Motesiczky, n.d.

With her mother Motesiczky went to Holland where she had her first solo exhibition in 1939. Shortly afterwards they left for England and, after a brief stay in London, settled in Amersham. It was here that Motesiczky met the writer Elias Canetti (the 1981 Nobel Prize winner in literature), with whom she became romantically involved. Canetti was a close friend and companion for the next three decades, and she painted him several times. Canetti wrote large parts of his famous Crowds and Power in  Motesiczky's London home. His was the last major portrait she painted in 1993, not long before he died, now in the National Portrait Gallery.

 Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Elias Canetti, 1930s

Motesiczky was one of a menage à quatre, which Canetti himself characterized this way: "One complains, the other staggers, and the third breathes through gills. The proud owner of three very different women." The plaintiff was his wife Veza Canetti, his lurching lover the poet Friedl Benedikt, and Marie-Louise was the wife with the gills: Motesiczky often dreamed of fishes (they often appear in her paintings too). In 1942, Canetti dedicated a collection of aphorisms to Motesiczky, Aufzeichnungen für Marie-Louise, which was only published in 2005. These are records from the time of the Blitzkrieg, in which we already find Canetti's major themes: language, death, time, and utopia.

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky,The Travellers, 1940

In 1943, Motesiczky joined the Artists’ International Association and took part in several of their exhibitions. The following year, Motesiczky’s first solo exhibition in London took place at the Czechoslovak Institute. She also renewed her acquaintance with Oskar Kokoschka who had been a friend of the family in Vienna. After the war Motesiczky moved to London. Two solo exhibitions in The Hague and Amsterdam in 1952 were followed two years later by one at the Städtische Galerie in Munich and one at the Beaux Arts Gallery in London in 1960. The first success in Austria came in 1966 when the Wiener Secession staged a large solo exhibition which subsequently travelled to Linz, Bremen and Munich. In the early 1960s, she bought the house at 6 Chesterford Gardens where her mother soon joined her. By the time Henriette died in 1978, aged 96, Motesiczky had produced a series of beautiful and moving images of her. 

 Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, The Magic Fish, n.d.

The artistic breakthrough in the United Kingdom came with the major solo exhibition at the Goethe-Institut in London in 1985 which achieved enormous critical acclaim. By the time the Österreichische Galerie im Belvedere in Vienna held a retrospective exhibition of Motesiczky’s work in 1994, she had already established her reputation as an important Austrian painter of the twentieth century. Marie-Louise von Motesiczky died in London on 10 June 1996.

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