Maria Lassnig

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Maria Lassnig
Born(1919-09-08)8 September 1919
Died6 May 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 94)
Known forPainting
AwardsGrand Austrian State Prize (1988), Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award (2013)

Maria Lassnig (September 8, 1919 – May 6, 2014) was an Austrian artist known for her painted self-portraits and her theory of "body awareness".[1] She was the first female artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988 and was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2005.[2][3] Lassnig lived and taught in Vienna from 1980 until her death.[4]

Early life[edit]

Maria Lassnig was born in Kappel am Krappfeld, Austria, on September 8, 1919.[5][6] Her mother gave birth to her out of wedlock and later married a much older man, but their relationship was troubled and Lassnig was raised mostly by her grandmother.[7] She attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during World War II.[8]


Lassnig is credited with helping to introduce Informalism and Tachisme into postwar Austrian art.[9] In the 1950s, Lassnig was part of the Hundsgruppe ("Dog Pack") group, which also included Arnulf Rainer, Ernst Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer and Wolfgang Hollegha.[10] The works of the group were influenced by abstract expressionism and action painting.[11] In 1951 Lassnig traveled to Paris with Arnulf Rainer where they organized the exhibition Junge unifigurative Malerei at the Kärnten Art Association.[12] In Paris she also met the surrealist artist André Breton and the poets Paul Celan and Benjamin Péret.[7][13]

Though Lassnig began her career painting abstract works, she always created self-portraits. One of her earliest was Expressive Self-Portrait (1945), which she painted only weeks after leaving Vienna.[14] In 1948 Lassnig coined the term "body consciousness" (Körpergefühlmalerei in her native German) to describe her practice.[6] In this style, Lassnig only depicted the parts of her body that she actually felt as she worked.[13] As such, many of her self-portraits depict figures that are missing body parts or use unnatural colours. The shading of the grotesque forms then become a code for interpreting her "Körpergefühlmalerei."[15] For example, red often acts as the most significant color in her paintings, sometimes suggesting pain but often just intense feeling or strain.[16]  By the 1960s Lassnig turned away from abstract painting altogether and began to focus more wholly on the human body and psyche.[17] Since that time she created hundreds of self-portraits.[14] Most of her work in the 1970s and 1980s paired her own image with objects, animals or other people, frequently with a blocked out or averted gaze, suggesting interiority.[18]

From 1968 to 1980, Lassnig lived in New York City.[19] From 1970 to 1972 she studied animated film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.[citation needed] During this time she made six short films, including Selfportrait (1971) and Couples (1972).[20] Her most famous film, however, Kantate (also known as The Ballad of Maria Lassnig), was produced in 1992 when she was seventy-three years old.[21] Kantate (1992) depicts a filmic self-portrait of the artist set to songs and music.[21]

In 1980, she returned to become a professor at the Vienna University of Applied Arts, becoming the first female professor of painting in a German-speaking country.[22] She was a chair at the University until 1997.[20] In 1997 she also published a book of her drawings entitled Die Feder ist die Schwester des Pinsels (or The Pen is the Sister of the Paintbrush).[citation needed] She continued to paint, and in 2008 made her provocative self-portrait, You or Me, which exemplifies the often confrontational nature of her works.[23]

In 2013 Lassnig received the Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement at the 55th Venice Biennale.[24]



Well into her sixties and late in her career, Lassnig began to receive widespread recognition, especially in Europe.[7] She represented Austria at the Venice Biennale with Valie Export in 1980.[2] In 1996 a retrospective of her work was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou.[1] She participated in documenta in both 1982 and 1997.[citation needed] For the 2005/2006 season at the Vienna State Opera she designed the large-scale (176 m²) Breakfast with Ear for the ongoing series "Safety curtain", conceived by museum in progress. In 2008 an exhibition of her recent paintings was shown at the Serpentine Gallery[25][26] which also travelled to the Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (2009). The exhibition was curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in association with Rebecca Morrill and featured thirty canvases and seven films.

Lassnig's later solo exhibitions included It's art that keeps one ever young, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany (2010), 'Maria Lassnig. Films’, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York NY, (2011), and The Location of Pictures, Universalmuseum Joanneum; Graz (2012).[27] as well as Deichtorhallen; Hamburg (2013).[28]

MoMA PS1 held a major exhibition in 2014 of works, many of which that had not previously been seen in the United States before including 50 paintings, filmic works and a selection of watercolors.[29] They have continued to show her films, as in the 2018 exhibition Maria Lassnig: New York Films 1970-1980. [30]

Since 2014, the year of her death, her work was shown at the Fondacio Tapies in Barcelona (2015), Tate Liverpool (2016), the Albertina, Vienna (2017),[31] and the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2017),[32] the National Gallery in Prague (2018),[33] Kunstmuseum Basel (2018),[34] and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2019).[35] Lassnig's work was included in the 2022 exhibition Women Painting Women at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.[36]


Lassnig's work is held in the following permanent collections:


Critics have pointed to the influence that Lassnig's work had on contemporary artists like Nicole Eisenman, Dana Schutz, Thomas Schütte, and Amy Sillman.[6][7]

Founded in 2015, the Maria Lassnig Foundation is dedicated to propagating the extensive oeuvre of the artist and to ensure that Lassnig's legacy is secured over the long term.[39]


Sleeping with a Tiger biopic[edit]

A biopic on her life was made by Anja Salomonowitz in 2024. Titled as Sleeping with a Tiger, the film will have world premiere in February 2024, as part of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, in Forum.[44][45]


  1. ^ a b Attias, Laurie Maria Lassnig Archived 1 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Frieze, May 1996.
  2. ^ a b Archived 10 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1682. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  4. ^ Roberta Smith (22 November 2002), Art in Review; Maria Lassnig New York Times.
  5. ^ Nach 1970: österrichische Kunst aus der Albertina (in German). Albertina. 2008. p. 305.
  6. ^ a b c Karen Rosenberg (27 March 2014), A Painter, Well Aware, Takes Twists and Turns The New York Times, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  7. ^ a b c d Randy Kennedy (9 May 2014), Maria Lassnig, Painter of Self From the Inside Out, Dies at 94 New York Times.
  8. ^ Scott, Andrea K. "Her: The radically prescient self-portraits of Maria Lassnig, at MoMA PS1" The New Yorker, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  9. ^ James Quandt, "Body Awareness" (New York Review of Books, Dec. 16, 2021), p. 61.
  10. ^ Larios, Pablo. "Wiener Gruppe: Word Association" Archived 17 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine Frieze Magazin, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  11. ^ Douglas Crow in Ernst Grabovszki, James N. Hardin, Literature in Vienna at the Turn of the Centuries, Boydell and Brewer, 2003, p166. ISBN 1-57113-233-3
  12. ^ "Rain, Arnulf Rainer" Tate, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  13. ^ a b Moyer, Carrie. "Maria Lassnig: The Pitiless Eye" Art in America, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  14. ^ a b Lane, Mary "MoMA PS1 Shows 'Body Awareness'" The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  15. ^ Lang, Karen (2009). "Maria Lassnig's Body sensation, Body awareness". X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly. 12: 66–67 – via EbscoHost.
  16. ^ Lane, Mary (7 March 2014). "MoMA PS1 Shows "Body Awareness"". Wall Street Journal.
  17. ^ Roberta Smith (22 November 2002), Art in review; Maria Lassnig The New York Times.
  18. ^ Mark, Lisa Gabrielle (2007). WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. pp. 259–260.
  19. ^ Woeller, Marcus. "Having Won Venice's Golden Lion, Maria Lassnig Gets Her Due in Hamburg" ArtInfo, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  20. ^ a b "Maria Lassnig Master CV" Petzel Gallery, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  21. ^ a b "Maria Lassnig" Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Art Films, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  22. ^ Bendazzi, Giannalberto (2015). Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style - The Three Markets. CRC Press. ISBN 9781317519904.
  23. ^ Searle, Adrian (24 April 2008). "Truth and dare: Adrian Searle talks to painter Maria Lassnig". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  24. ^ Great women artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 232. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  25. ^ Laura Cumming, A stunning body of work, The Observer, 27 April 2008
  26. ^ "Maria Lassnig". Serpentine Galleries. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  27. ^ "Maria Lassnig: The Location of Pictures". Neue Galerie Graz. 2012. Archived from the original on 5 February 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  28. ^ "Maria Lassnig: The Location of Pictures". Deichtorhallen Hamburg. 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  29. ^ "MoMA PS1".
  30. ^ "Maria Lassnig: New York Films 1970–1980". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  31. ^ "Retrospective of the drawings and watercolours Maria Lassnig Dialogues". Albertina. 2017. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  32. ^ "Zachęta National Gallery of Art".
  33. ^ "Maria Lessnig". National Gallery Prague. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  34. ^ "Exhibitions Maria Lassnig Dialogues". Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  35. ^ "Maria Lassnig Ways of Being". 2019. Retrieved 29 July 2019.
  36. ^ "Women Painting Women". Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  37. ^ "Maria Lassnig (Austrian, born 1919)". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  38. ^ "Paintings & Sculpture". The Albertina Museum Vienna. Retrieved 17 May 2019.
  39. ^ Maria Lassnig Foundation
  40. ^ "New York State Council on the Arts Annual Report 1973 –74" (PDF). New York State Council on the Arts. p. 135.
  41. ^ Awarded 1999, accepted 2013.
  42. ^ "Maria Lassnig and Marisa Merz Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement of the 55th International Art Exhibition". La Biennale di Venezia. 5 June 2013. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2014.
  43. ^ "Leben von Maria Lassnig wird verfilmt" [Life of Maria Lassnig is being made into a film]. ORF (in German). 25 April 2022. Retrieved 2 February 2024.
  44. ^ Dalton, Ben (17 January 2024). "Berlinale unveils complete 2024 Panorama, Generation, Forum sections". ScreenDaily. Retrieved 2 February 2024.

Further reading[edit]

  • Williams, Gilda (2016). "How Embarrassing!". Tate Etc. (37): 1. ISSN 1743-8853.
  • Eszter Kondor, Michael Loebenstein, Peter Pakesch, Hans Werner Poschauko (ed.): Maria Lassnig. Film Works. FilmmuseumSynemaPublikationen, Vienna 2021. ISBN 978-3-901644-86-3

External links[edit]

Media related to Maria Lassnig at Wikimedia Commons