Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Classic Tuesday Inspiration: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt..

The contorted and exagerated faces of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt have a contemporary, animated ring to them.  It's difficult to imagine the reception these pieces received in the 18th century. Messerschmidt was born in a small town in Bavaria and trained as a sculptor in Munich. At 18 he was at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Not long after, damaging rumors circulated that he was mentally unbalanced. Messerschmidt’s personality, commandingly idiosyncratic, had always set him apart, and by the early 1770s his eccentricities were more pronounced. Possibly after contact with secret societies, of a sort that proliferated at the time like a return of a Gothic repressed, he was having hallucinations, seeing ghosts.

 After his death, at 47, a group of more than 40 of these busts were sold en masse as a freak-show attraction in a carnival. Then gradually, with changes in taste, one by one they entered private collections, then museums, being valued most recently as precursors to the early-20th-century German Expressionist painting.


  1. Funny, I actually saw him for the first time last week, and now this post. Amazing stuff, look at how much our faces are capable of squash and stretch! As mad as he was, you can see he had a blast doing these and was completely into it. These were made purely for the artist's satisfaction, my favorite kind of work. Thanks for the great post, it's very well written and the images are just inspiring.

  2. I considered writing Messerschmidt in as a topic. I discovered him months ago at a show at the Neue Galerie in New York. It was so inspiring. I spent the rest of the week thinking of how distorted the human face could be. That inspiration worked its way into this year's New Year's card.