Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky

Old Woman, Amersham


Not on display

Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky 1906–1996
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 913 × 710 × 23mm
frame: 1107 × 908 × 50 mm
Presented by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust 2017


Old Woman, Amersham 1942 is a half-length portrait of an elderly woman wearing a hat and holding a piece of white cloth. The figure is positioned against a yellow background which echoes a yellow garment just visible beneath the sitter’s black coat. The work combines loose expressionist handling with a strong evocation of character, conveyed by the close attention to the marks of ageing on the features of the sitter. The work was painted four years after Motesiczky had emigrated to England in 1939, when she was in close contact with the German painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), an old family friend. Kokoschka’s loose handling of paint and his tendency to turn portraits into symbolic compositions were influences on this painting and others of the period (see, for example, Kokoschka’s Ambassador Ivan Maisky 1942–3 [Tate N05432] for an example of his fluid paint handling). The white cloth or sheet that Motesiczky’s sitter holds has been interpreted as a reference to the use of the shroud in Dutch painting to suggest that the subject, in this case a neighbour in Amersham who, according to the artist, lived to be one hundred years old, will outlive those around her. The work was exhibited in Motesiczky’s exhibition at the Czechoslovak Institute, London in autumn 1944. At the time Kokoschka suggested to Sir John Rothenstein, then Director of the Tate Gallery, that Tate might acquire a work from the exhibition. Rothenstein included Old Woman, Amersham on a list of works to be considered, but ultimately it was not acquired at that time.

Portraiture was an important aspect of Motesiczky’s practice throughout her career, from early work such as Portrait of a Russian Student 1927 (Tate T14867) to later portraits such as From Night into Day 1975 (Tate T04851).

Further reading
Ines Schlenker, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, 19061996: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, London 2009, p.158 no.59.

Emma Chambers
January 2017

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