Marie-Louise von Motesiczky

Born 1906 Austria

Died 1996 London, UK


Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky is primarily known for her intimate portraits and symbolic still life paintings. Born into an aristocratic Jewish family, Motesiczky left Vienna at age eighteen to study at the Montparnasse Painting Academy in Paris. She continued her education at the Städel Art School in Frankfurt (1927–8) under the tutelage of the German expressionist Max Beckmann. Upon their first meeting in 1920, Beckmann became a life-long influence on her work as both friend and mentor. With the rise of Nazism, Motesiczky fled Vienna in 1938 to settle in England the following year. Here, Motesiczky became part of a community of exiled artists and intellectuals – a group which included the writer Elias Canetti (1905–94), with whom she shared a turbulent yet creatively productive relationship. A major solo exhibition at the Goethe-Institut in London in 1985 attracted enormous critical acclaim, and thereafter she became the subject of several retrospectives including at Tate Liverpool, Fitzwilliam Museum, and Manchester Art Gallery.


Artwork Information

Portrait of Elizabeth (1990) entered the collection after it was loaned by the artist, later to be donated. This portrait speaks to Motesicsky’s artistic fascination with the human character, of which she said: ‘For me, anything with a figure, is a story.’ Writing about Motesicsky, Ernst Gombrich describes how her ‘portraits are marked by that sensitive empathy which enables her to convey the presence of the sitter without resorting to caricature or expressionist distortion’. Her skill can especially be seen in the series of eighteen portraits depicting her mother, Henriette, from the mid-1940s until her death in 1978, which are regarded by many to be her greatest works. The subject of this particular work is Elizabeth Tollinton, whose photographic portraits from the sitting can be found in the Tate archives.