Apollo Magazine

Maria Lassnig: 1919–2014

The Austrian painter Maria Lassnig has died. Iwan Wirth recalls her good humour and complete devotion to her work

Maria Lassnig Photo: Sepp Dreissinger

The Austrian artist Maria Lassnig has died at the age of 94 in Vienna.

Lassnig, known for her vibrant, lurid, and often uncomfortable portrayals of human figures, was unflinching in her handling of the body as a subject for art. ‘I step in front of the canvas naked, as it were’, she once claimed, ‘…the only true reality are my feelings, played out within the confines of my body.’ Over the years, she has emerged as one of the leading contemporary artists (among a growing number) to embrace painterly and expressionist techniques.

‘She was an extraordinary artist, completely focused on her work, and an inspiration in that sense for a lot of our younger artists’, recalled Iwan Wirth of Hauser & Wirth, who has worked with Maria Lassnig since they were introduced in Zurich, through a mutual friend, in the late 1990s.

‘She had no family, no children, it was all about her work. But she had a great sense of humour and was very human… One of my greatest memories of her was on her 85th birthday. She insisted on having tea at the Ritz in London, and dancing a waltz.’

‘For me she was a role model in the way that she was modest and, at the same time, absolutely driven. She was a modest giant, and that’s a rare combination.’

Lassnig enjoyed a long career, and her influence has been well recognised in recent years. She was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 55th International Art Exhibition in Venice last year, and her work is currently on display at MoMA PS1 in New York.

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