MARIE-LOUISE MOTESICZKY: Paradise Lost & Found is the first American exhibition of paintings by the artist, who was a student of Max Beckmann and a lover of the Nobel-laureate Elias Canetti. Motesiczky, a member of a prominent Jewish aristocratic clan that once formed the financial and cultural backbone of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was driven into exile by the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. Always reluctant to sell her work, she bequeathed her entire artistic legacy to the Marie- Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust, which owns the 66 paintings and drawings in the Galerie St. Etienne exhibition. Also including 10 works by Beckmann, MARIE-LOUISE MOTESICZKY: Paradise Lost & Found will be on view from October 12 through December 30, 2010.
MARIE-LOUISE MOTESICZKY: Paradise Lost & Found is a document of loss and renewal. Early works reflect Motesiczky’s aristocratic life in prewar Austria. Kröpfelsteig, Hinterbrühl (1927) shows a street near the family’s immense country estate. In Henriette Motesiczky I (1929), the artist’s mother, a talented poet and society hostess, reclines in bed, where she was wont to spend days at a time. Portrait of Karl Motesiczky (1928) depicts the artist’s brother (who would die in Auschwitz) reading Marx’s Das Kapital. Motesiczky, a statuesque beauty who had many lovers before Canetti, displays a characteristic combination of elegance and vulnerability in Self-Portrait with Straw Hat (1937), Self-Portrait in Black (1959) and her Last Self-Portrait (1993). Much of the artist’s later work, such as Conversation in the Library (1950; a portrait of Canetti with his colleague Franz Steiner) alludes to the intellectual life that she, her mother and other Central European émigrés attempted to recreate in England after 1938. Distant memories haunt the painting The Old Song (1959), in which a refugee neighbor serenades Henriette Motesiczky, whose bed is both a link to a past life of decadent repose and an emblem of frailty. It is generally agreed that the artist’s crowning achievement is the series of portraits she did of her mother, which span the five decades from 1929 until Henriette’s death in 1978. A dreamlike quality characterizes many of these works, such as Morning in the Garden (1943), which shows mother and daughter playing with a huge golden ball, or The Greenhouse (1979) a posthumous tribute in which Henriette makes one last visit to her garden, accompanied by the ghosts of her dogs. The garden and its flowers (depicted in numerous still lifes) were potent symbols for Motesiczky, representing both the beauty and transience of daily existence, and the ability of art to transcend death.
Marie-Louse Motesiczky (1906-1996) was part of a Jewish aristocratic family whose friends over the years constitute a veritable “who’s who” of European intellectuals, including composers such as Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, Franz Liszt, Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti; the dancer Anna Pavlova; the artists Franz von Lenbach, Hans Makart, Oskar Kokoschka, Anna Mahler (daughter of Gustav and Alma Mahler) and Max Beckmann; and the writers Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arthur Schnitzler, Fritz von Unruh, Heimito von Doderer and Iris Murdoch. The artist’s grandmother, Anna Lieben, was one of Sigmund Freud’s first patients and is credited with helping him develop the “talking cure.” Motesiczky decided to become an artist in 1922, when she was sixteen, and within five years her work had progressed so far that Beckmann invited her to attend his master class at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. In the 1920s, Motesiczky lived the carefree life of the “New Woman,” but in the 1930s, with Nazi clouds gathering over Central Europe, she and her mother decided to leave Austria. They fled first to relatives in Holland and then, in 1939, to England.
In England, Motesiczky and her mother, Henriette, recreated their former lifestyle under greatly reduced circumstances, gathering around them a coterie of intellectual emigrés. Foremost among this group was the Bulgarian-born writer Elias Canetti, who became Motesiczky’s lover, mentor and confidant for the next fifty years. Motesiczky, who had a penchant for love triangles (she also flirted with Beckmann and Kokoschka despite their involvement with other women), was not deterred by the fact that Canetti was already married when they met. However, when Canetti, after his wife’s death in 1963, chose a younger spouse, the artist was heartbroken. Motesiczky never entirely recovered from this betrayal, but she did not break completely with Canetti, who remained, above all, a staunch champion of her art. He hoped that his own rising fame (he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1981) would somehow rub off on his friend, but Motesiczky was not eager to exhibit, and even more reluctant to sell her work. Considering her paintings the equivalent of “children,” she instead decided to provide for their dispersal after her death. The Marie-Louse von Motesiczky Charitable Trust, beneficiary of the artist’s estate, has since 1996 organized major retrospectives of the artist’s work in Liverpool, Southampton, Frankfurt and Vienna.
MARIE-LOUISE MOTESICZKY: Paradise Lost & Found is accompanied by a detailed checklist containing a scholarly essay by Galerie St. Etienne Co-Director Jane Kallir, which is available free of charge by mail, or may be viewed on our website: http://www.gseart.com.