Marie-Louise von Motesiczky The Travellers 1940

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky
The Travellers 1940
© Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky The Old Song 1959

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky
The Old Song 1959
© Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust

The ‘fantasy paintings’ are the dream-like compositions that formed a significant part of Motesiczky’s work in the 1950s and 60s. These magical visions blur fantasy and reality in a complex and cryptic personal symbolism, which though difficult to decipher, are often captivating. This shift in her oeuvre following her exile can in part be explained by the influence of the painter Oskar Kokoschka, who painted complex political allegories, following their renewed acquaintance. Yet Motesiczky’s allegories always remain rooted in her own private universe. It is thought that Motesiczky took her own dreams as the starting point for many of these works; such as The Magic Fish 1956, where a scantily clad woman is engaged in a grotesque battle with a flying fish. Motesiczky recounted dreams that she had to Canetti, and some of these found their way into his writing.

Motesiczky’s change in style is inextricably linked to her exile. Her first fantasy painting, The Travellers 1940 refers directly to her exile from Austria and explicitly to a specific event, the crossing of the Channel. The composition, which recalls The Ship of Fools c.1490–1500 by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450–1516), shows a small boat, without oars or sails, adrift on a stormy sea. The appearance of the passengers suggests a sudden flight: the central figure is naked, the figure on the left is dressed in what appears to be a night dress and the only belongings that they have with them are a mirror and a large sausage. The three female figures may signify stages in a woman’s life, though the four passengers have also been interpreted as members of Motesiczky’s family, including her mother and her nursemaid Marie. Though the work has its origin in the artist’s experience, the depersonalisation of the passengers and the title conjure a universal experience of exile.

Other fantasy works were inspired by everyday life in the Motesiczky household. The Old Song 1959 recalls the biblical scene of David playing the harp before King Saul. Here, an elderly Henriette von Motesiczky reclines in bed listening to a white-haired, ermine-cloaked woman playing a harp, whilst a tousled bird disturbs the rendition. The harpist is a neighbour who regularly visited Henriette, regaling her with tales about her unhappy marriage, her husband here represented by the ugly bird spoiling the music. The work conveys not only Henriette’s desperation for news from the outside world, but also the tragedy of the harpist’s failed marriage. Despite the difficulty in penetrating such biographical allusions, The Old Song successfully evokes a universal image of the loneliness of old age.