Catalogue entry

T04850 Still Life with Sheep 1938 Stilleben mit Schafen

Oil on canvas 400 × 805 (15 3/4 × 31 5/8)
Inscribed ‘1938’ b.l.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1986
Exh: Marie-Louise von Motesiczky: Paintings Vienna 1925–London 1985, Goethe-Institut, Nov.–Dec. 1985 (21, repr. p.30 in col.); Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Österreichische Galerie Oberes Belvedere, Vienna, Feb.–April 1994 (17, repr. in col.), City Art Galleries, Manchester, May–June 1994 (14)

This still life depicts two enamelled, ornamental sheep, together with some flowers and fruit, on a decorated cloth. The sheep are blue-grey, the grapes deep blue, and both the grapefruit and flowers are yellow. The cloth on which they are placed is white. To the left is a yellow curtain and behind is a wall with patterned yellow and blue wallpaper.

‘Still Life with Sheep’ was painted in a hotel room in Amsterdam during March 1938, following the sudden departure of the artist from Vienna. In a conversation with the compiler on 9 March 1994, the artist said that she was accompanied by her mother, Henriette von Motesiczky, and her Bohemian childhood wet-nurse, Marie Hauptmann, who remained with the von Motesiczkys until her death in the late 1950s or early 1960s. They left because of the arrival of German troops in Vienna, annexing Austria to the Third Reich. Richard Calvocoressi (Goethe-Institut exh. cat., 1985, p.65) described the circumstances of the von Motesiczky's departure:

In March 1938 the Nazis marched into Vienna and, with the help of their even more zealous Austrian counterparts, immediately set about destroying the cultivated, liberal society in which the Motesiczkys and thousands like them had moved. Without delay Marie-Louise packed her bags and, together with her mother and childhood nurse, left for Holland. Her brother Karl remained in Vienna, in the hope of being able to complete his medical studies.

On their arrival in Amsterdam, the artist and her mother stayed in a hotel called ‘Pays Bas’. Von Motesiczky set up the still life depicted in T04950 on an ironing board, the most convenient surface available. In a letter to the compiler dated 27 November 1987, von Motesiczky explained that the use of the ironing board ‘dictated the oblong shape of the picture’. She recalled her motivation ‘to paint something beautiful’, and wrote of her desire when painting this work ‘to paint and to dream’. She remembered ‘the deep blue grapes, the glorious yellow of the grapefruit’, along with the decorative sheep, ‘so familiar from our Viennese surroundings’. In conversation with the compiler on 16 October 1991, von Motesiczky said she had bought the necessary painting materials after her arrival in Amsterdam.

The cloisonné sheep were among the very few possessions the artist packed before leaving Vienna. She recalled her desire to take them with her at all costs and they have remained in her possession ever since. Her mother had bought them in a Viennese antique shop sometime before 1930, and had tried to purchase two further sheep, which were acquired instead by the Vienna Decorative Arts Museum. Dr Markus Neuwirth of the East Asian and Islamic Department at the museum confirmed in a letter dated 12 February 1991 that the museum acquired two cloisonné sheep on 10 August 1929 from Kunsthandlung Stibbe in Vienna. They were made in China and dated from the eighteenth century. Von Motesiczky said when she painted T04850 she had not intended the sheep to be seen as symbolic in any way, and said that they were not depicted in any of her other paintings.

No preparatory sketches or earlier versions of the painting exist, although, the artist recalled, in a letter to the compiler, ‘there is a charcoal drawing on the canvas under the actual picture as the first stage of the painting’. The colours were dictated by the colours of the objects chosen for the still life. The paint has been applied in washes and thin coats, with highlights applied more thickly, resulting in some slight areas of impasto. Von Motesiczky had not kept a diary or record of her progress on this painting, but said that it probably took about three weeks to complete.

She had her first solo show in The Hague in January 1939. It was organised by a family friend. In conversation with the compiler on 14 November 1990, von Motesiczky said that T04850 had probably not been included, and that it was unlikely that her friend and former teacher Max Beckmann, who lived in Amsterdam between 1937 and 1947, had seen the exhibition. She believed that T04850 was not exhibited until her exhibition at the Goethe Institute, London, in 1985. Von Motesiczky, together with her mother, and Marie Hauptmann, emigrated from Holland to England in mid-1939, settling initially in London before moving to Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996