Catalogue entry

T04849 View from the Window, Vienna 1925 Blick aus dem Fenster, Wien

Oil on canvas 625 × 310 (24 5/8 × 12 1/4)
Not inscribed
Presented by the artist 1986
Exh: Marie-Louise von Motesiczky: Paintings Vienna 1925–London 1985, Goethe-Institut, Nov.–Dec. 1985 (3, repr. p.18 in col.); Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, Österreichische Galerie Oberes Belvedere, Vienna, Feb.–April 1994 (10, repr. in col., dated c. 1935), City Art Galleries, Manchester, May–June 1994 (10, dated c.1935)

This painting depicts a view of roofs and facades seen from von Motesiczky's fourth-floor flat at 7 Brahmsplatz, Vienna, where she lived during the first half of the 1920s. The room where she painted this work faced north across the Favorittenstrasse and the cupola in the upper centre of the painting is part of the Johann Strauss Theatre, famous for its performances of light opera. In a conversation with the compiler at her home in London on 14 November 1990, von Motesiczky recalled attending performances there at least once a week for a period in the mid-1920s. The snow-covered buildings are painted in sombre tones of grey, pale pink, white, blue and black. The curtain to the left is a stronger tone of mustard yellow and the blanket across the bottom of the image is white. In a letter to the compiler dated 27 November 1987, the artist wrote of her straightforward approach towards depicting the view: ‘I was very concerned to give exactly the impression of what I saw there. There was hardly any change or invention involved in making the subject into a nice picture’.

T04849 is the second of two paintings of this subject. The first version (Walter Elkan, London) was painted in November 1925 and depicts the same view onto the buildings outside from somewhat further into the room. In this work, the contents of the room are shown in greater detail and include cushions and patterned blankets used by von Motesiczky to draughtproof the window. The window frame is shown as black. In emulation of the colour scheme in the flat of a mutual friend, the artist and her brother had actually painted it that colour, and in the early picture it acts as a framing device separating the dark interior from the view out of the window. T04849 was painted a few weeks later in late November or December. The artist could not recall the exact date, nor how long it took to complete. In this second version, interior detail has been reduced to a minimum. The curtain to the left, the minimal depiction of blankets and cushions at the bottom and the window frame on the right, now shown as pale brown, establish the context for the view onto the buildings outside without elaborating the room itself. Both versions were painted in front of the motif. While the first version represents an overcast, misty day, T04849 shows snow lying on the roofs.

Von Motesiczky said that the paint was applied over a charcoal or pencil sketch of the composition, drawn directly onto the canvas. Although she recalled making a preparatory drawing, which has not survived, she said the purpose of the drawing was to establish the size and proportions of the canvas chosen for the oil painting, rather than to elaborate the composition itself. She recalled, ‘I first made a drawing and was very particular to get a canvas of the right proportions, to the nearest millimetre. I made the sketch, then decided on the size. The sketch was much smaller, of course’.

Technically, T04849 marks a significant shift in the artist's work. Von Motesiczky wrote of the first version: ‘I wanted to capture the foggy dampness, to paint the cold damp feeling. I applied the colour rather thickly, putting heaps on the palette as in other early pictures’. She applied the paint in dabs, then worked it across the surface, creating a mottled effect with uneven impasto. T04849, on the other hand, was painted with rather freer brush strokes. This was, she wrote, ‘perhaps because fresh snow is so striking and refreshing in a town. This led naturally to a change of approach and to a way of painting which I have kept up ever since’.

The elongated vertical format of T04849 is characteristic of von Motesiczky's canvases of the period and reflects the influence of Max Beckmann's paintings of the 1920s. Other unusually high, narrow paintings include ‘Self-Portrait with a Comb’, 1926 (repr. Vienna exh. cat. 1994, pl.4 in col.), ‘Portrait of Frau Ansberg, Frankfurt’, c.1926–7 (repr. ibid., pl.6 in col.) and ‘At the Tailor’, 1930 (repr. ibid., pl.10 in col.). Von Motesiczky said that she adopted tall, narrow canvases before she studied with Beckmann at the Städel art school, Frankfurt, in 1927, but was familiar with Beckmann's work through catalogue reproductions shown her by her mother. In conversation with the compiler she said she could not recall a time after her first encounter with Beckmann's work when he was not at the back of her mind. She had met Beckmann in 1920 on his first visit to the von Motesiczky family home in Hinterbrühl, south of Vienna, and in 1924 he made three or four portrait drawings of her in pencil (Stephan von Wiese, Max Beckmanns Zeichnerisches Werk 1903–1925, Düsseldorf 1978, p.226, nos.547–8, pl.110).

The curtain down the left-hand side of T04849, concealing part of the interior, is a pictorial device commonly found in Beckmann's paintings. Von Motesiczky's choice of colour, particularly the chalky white highlights she used after the mid-1920s, also corresponds to the colours and paint texture of Beckmann's works of the 1920s. Von Motesiczky said that Beckmann never commented specifically on T04849. The artist confirmed that T04849 was not exhibited until the retrospective of her paintings at the Goethe Institute, London, in 1985, and she could not recall any earlier source in which the painting was reproduced.

The artist has approved this entry.

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