Franz Xaver Messerschmidt — (1736-1783)



Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

Past: January 28 → April 25, 2011

For the first time in France, the Louvre presents a monographic exhibition devoted to the Bavarian-born Austrian sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, active in Vienna and Pressburg (now Bratislava) in the late 18th century. As a court sculptor, Messerschmidt executed portraits of members of the imperial family as well as notable intellectuals of his time, but is most celebrated for his series of violently expressive, bizarre and fascinating “character heads”, whose originality and verve still captivate viewers today.

The exhibition comprises some thirty works, including the head acquired by Louvre in 2005, which is joined by exceptional loans from several German museums, the Belvedere and the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, museums in Budapest and Bratislava, and private collections. This event is part of a special series this season at the Louvre celebrating the 18th century.

Apprenticed at the age of ten to his uncle, Johannes Baptist Straub, a renowned sculptor in wood active in Munich, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt moved to Vienna in 1755 and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. Working at the Arsenal, he became proficient in metal sculpting techniques. In 1765, Messerschmidt traveled to Rome for several months, and upon his return executed a series of spectacular portraits of the imperial couple and other major figures of the Viennese court, such as Prince Josef Wenzel I of Liechtenstein.
Appointed as adjunct professor of sculpture at the Academy in 1769, he continued to pursue his illustrious career as a portrait sculptor while teaching, through busts depicting prominent Enlightenment thinkers in Vienna. Messerschmidt’s enthusiastic zeal was cut to the quick when the Academy’s council of professors decided, with the consent of the State Chancellor, to award the coveted title of full professor to another faculty member. Severely discomfited and angered by this failure, which had been grounded in a perception among the authorities and his peers that Messerschmidt was mentally unbalanced, the sculptor left Vienna at that time the Hungarian capital. There he worked exclusively on the “character heads”, which were produced without commissions. Sculpted in metal (using alloys composed largely of tin and/or lead) and in alabaster, these heads convey the expressiveness of a master sculptor keen to depict the torments of the soul in all their extreme emotional variety.

Exceptional and lasting critical appreciation

Messerschmidt’s body of work continues to inspire awe among all those fortunate to come across it and many contemporary artists recognize the sculptor as an important influence. Accordingly, in counterpoint to this exhibition and as a tribute to Messerschmidt’s lasting impact, the Louvre presents sculptures by the leading contemporary artist Tony Cragg (a connection already explored in a 2008 exhibition at the Belvedere in Vienna).

  • Lecture Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    Conference presented by Guilhem Scherf.

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Palais royal, musée du Louvre

75001 Paris

Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Opening hours

Every day except Tuesday, 9 AM – 6 PM
Late night on Wednesday, Friday until 9:30 PM
Lundi, jeudi, samedi, dimanche : fermeture des salles à partir de 17h30

Admission fee

Full rate €15.00

D’octobre à mars : le premier dimanche de chaque mois, l’accès aux collections permanentes est gratuit pour tous.

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The artist

  • Franz Xaver Messerschmidt