Musée du Louvre
January 28, 2011 to April 25, 2011
+33 1 40 20 57 60

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.

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783) first made his mark in Vienna, where he
enjoyed a successful career, including several royal commissions. Working in a neoclassical vein, Messerschmidt produced some of the most important sculptures of the eighteenth century. He presented the individual features of his subjects in a way that did not idealize them. No other sculptor in Vienna at the time was similarly uncompromising when producing portraits.

Around 1770, there was a rupture in Messerschmidt’s life. The artist was thought
to have psychological problems, lost his position at the university, and decided
to return to Wiesensteig, his native Bavarian town. Messerschmidt devoted
himself to the creation of his “character heads,” the body of work for which he
would become best known. To produce these works, the artist would look into
the mirror, pinching his body and making faces. He then rendered, with great
precision, his distorted face. Messerschmidt is known to have produced 49 of
these astonishing works before he died in 1783.