Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky

Portrait of a Russian Student


Not on display

Marie-Louise Von Motesiczky 1906–1996
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 825 × 540 mm
Presented by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust 2017


Portrait of a Russian Student 1927 depicts a young man with blonde hair seated in an interior setting. He is dressed formally in a grey suit and white shirt, the sober tones of which contrast with the green and pink patterned wallpaper behind him and the pink curtain at the right edge of the composition. His face has an intense, serious expression accentuated by his thin angular features and staring eyes, but most expressive of emotion are his hands. These are held in mid-air, perhaps in the act of gesticulating nervously, accentuating the impression of tension and anxiety. The identity of the sitter is unknown, but Motesiczky’s brother Karl was in contact with Russian scholars at the time that the portrait was painted, and she most likely met him through her brother. The work was probably painted in Paris while Motesiczky was studying at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Montparnasse. The simplified, angular forms and sparse setting, as well as the sober realist treatment of the figure, show Motesiczky adopting the formal approach of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, with whom Max Beckmann (1884–1950), her mentor, exhibited in 1925. Like many of her early works, the background is divided into two sections, representing two walls of a room, the corner located behind the sitter’s head. The wall behind the sitter’s right shoulder is lit by light from the window on the right, while the other wall is in shadow. The muted colours are punctuated by flashes of pink in the wallpaper, curtain and sitter’s lips.

The work was painted in the same year that Beckmann, having admired an earlier portrait by Motesiczky, Workman, Paris 1926, invited her to attend his master-class at the Städelschule in Frankfurt-am-Main, where she studied between 1927 and 1928. Beckmann was a family friend, whose studio Motesiczky had visited in 1924, and his work would exert a profound influence on his future student’s art. Her paintings of the 1920s, such as Portrait of a Russian Student, adopted his angular forms and harsh realism. From the 1930s this developed into a looser expressionist approach to her painting which can be seen in later works such as Old Woman, Amersham 1942 (Tate T14870). Portraiture would remain an important aspect of Motesiczky’s practice throughout her career.

Further reading
Ines Schlenker, Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, 19061996: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, London 2009, p.99 no.16.

Emma Chambers
January 2017

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