Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Method to His Madness: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in't,” Polonius says in Act 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet after an exchange with the title character. After encountering the unique sculpture of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, you can’t help but feel the same way. In Franz Xavier Messerschmidt 1736-1783: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism at the Neue Galerie, the tragically underexposed tragic artist gets the attention of the American public for the first time. A successful portraitist of the nobility and the rich, Messerschmidt suffered some kind of breakdown in 1771 that left him reeling. He found some kind of anchor in a series of “character heads” modeled after his own appearance that served as talismans against the demons he felt chasing him. That haunted feeling makes Messerschmidt’s eighteenth-century art seem remarkably modern—a study of demonology that set a precedent for the demons to come in the twentieth century. Please come over to Picture This at Big Think to read more of "A Method to His Madness."

[Image: Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736–1783). The Yawner, 1771–81. Tin cast. H. 43 x W. 22 x D. 24 cm (16 1/2 x 8 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.). Szépmuvészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Arts), Budapest.]

[Many thanks to the Neue Galerie for providing me with the image above and a review copy of the catalogue to the exhibition Franz Xavier Messerschmidt 1736-1783: From Neoclassicism to Expressionism, which runs through January 10, 2011.]

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