Maria Lassnig

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Maria Lassnig
Maria Lassnig 2009.jpg
Born (1919-09-08)8 September 1919
Kappel am Krappfeld, Carinthia, Austria
Died 6 May 2014(2014-05-06) (aged 94)
Vienna, Austria
Nationality Austrian
Known for Painting
Awards Grand Austrian State Prize (1988), Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award (2013)

Maria Lassnig (8 September 1919 – 6 May 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 8 September 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]


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.[9] The works of the group were influenced by abstract expressionism and action painting.[10] In 1951 Lassnig traveled to Paris with Arnulf Rainer where they organized the exhibition Junge unifigurative Malerei at the Kärnten Art Association.[11] In Paris she also met the surrealist artist André Breton and the poets Paul Celan and Benjamin Péret.[7][12]

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.[13] In 1948 Lassnig coined the term "body consciousness" to describe her practice.[6] In this style, Lassnig only depicted the parts of her body that she actually felt as she worked.[12] As such, many of her self-portraits depict figures that are missing body parts or use unnatural colours. By the 1960s Lassnig turned away from abstract painting altogether and began to focus more wholly on the human body and psyche.[14] Since that time she created hundreds of self-portraits.[13] 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.[15]

From 1968 to 1980, Lassnig lived in New York City.[16] 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).[17] 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.[18] Kantate (1992) depicts a filmic self-portrait of the artist set to songs and music.[18]

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.[citation needed] She was a chair at the University until 1997.[17] 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]


Well into her sixties, Lassnig began to receive widespread recognition, especially in Europe, only late in her career.[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[19][20] 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).[21] as well as Deichtorhallen; Hamburg (2013).[22]

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. [23]

Since 2014, the year of her death, her work was shown at the Fondacio Tapies in Barcelona (2015) [24], Tate Liverpool (2016) [25], and the Albertina, Vienna (2017)[26], the National Gallery in Prague (2018) [27] and the Kunstmuseum Basel [28]


Lassnig's works are held in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.[29]


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.[30]



  1. ^ a b Attias, Laurie Maria Lassnig Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine., Frieze, May 1996.
  2. ^ a b Archived 2006-10-10 at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ a b "Reply to a parliamentary question" (PDF) (in German). p. 1682. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Roberta Smith (November 22, 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 (May 9, 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. ^ Larios, Pablo. "Wiener Gruppe: Word Association" Frieze Magazin, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "Rain, Arnulf Rainer" Tate, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  12. ^ a b Moyer, Carrie. "Maria Lassnig: The Pitiless Eye" Art in America, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  13. ^ a b Lane, Mary "MoMA PS1 Shows 'Body Awareness'" The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  14. ^ Roberta Smith (November 22, 2002), Art in review; Maria Lassnig The New York Times.
  15. ^ Mark, Lisa Gabrielle (2007). WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. pp. 259–260. 
  16. ^ Woeller, Marcus. "Having Won Venice's Golden Lion, Maria Lassnig Gets Her Due in Hamburg" ArtInfo, Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Maria Lassnig Master CV" Petzel Gallery, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  18. ^ a b "Maria Lassnig" Art Films, Retrieved 17 April 2014.
  19. ^ Laura Cumming, A stunning body of work, The Observer, 27 April 2008
  20. ^ "Maria Lassnig". Serpentine Galleries. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "Maria Lassnig: The Location of Pictures". Neue Galerie Graz. 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  22. ^ "Maria Lassnig: The Location of Pictures". Deichtorhallen Hamburg. 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  23. ^ "MoMA PS1". 
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  27. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
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  29. ^ "Maria Lassnig (Austrian, born 1919)". Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 25 January 2014. 
  30. ^ Maria Lassnig Foundation
  31. ^ "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. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Media related to Maria Lassnig at Wikimedia Commons