The Vexed Man

Object Details

Title:

The Vexed Man

Artist/Maker(s):

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (German, 1736 - 1783)

Culture:

German

Place(s):

Austria (Place created)

Date:

1771 - 1783

Medium:

Alabaster

Dimensions:

39.4 x 27.3 x 26 cm (15 1/2 x 10 3/4 x 10 1/4 in.)

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The Vexed Man is one of a series of 69 portrait busts or "character heads" made by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, an eighteenth-century German sculptor active in Austria. Messerschmidt sculpted them during the last thirteen years of his life, while apparently suffering from mental illness.

This bust portrays a middle-aged man with a sour expression, which seems to fall somewhere between a grimace and a scowl. The most telling aspect may be the furrowed brow above squinting eyes and a scrunched nose. But natural cracks in the bust's alabaster surface seem to echo the topography of his skin, both softened by age yet hardened by the extreme expression. The man's receding hairline, wrinkles, and sagging jawline contrast with tensed cheek and neck muscles. Although the character seems to express irritation and annoyance, it is not certain whether Messerschmidt intended that interpretation, because he did not give the bust a title.

This bust and the series it belongs to reflect the intellectual concerns of artists and scholars during the Enlightenment era, when a surge of interest in the sciences occurred. Studies in physiognomy were highly popular at the time. Perhaps as influential was Messerschmidt's undiagnosed mental condition, which could have been schizophrenia. A contemporary wrote that Messerschmidt told him that by making the character heads, he hoped to ward away spirits that invaded his mind.

Provenance
1770 - 1783

Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, German, 1736 - 1783 (Vienna, Austria)

1783 - still in 1791

by inheritance to his brother Johann Adam Messerschmidt, Austrian (Pressburg [Bratislava], Slovakia)

by 1793

sold to Mr. Strantz (Pressburg [Bratislava], Slovakia; Prague, Czech Republic; by 1793 in Vienna, Austria)

by late 1800s

Camillo Sitte, Austrian, 1843 - 1903 (Vienna, Austria)

by 1920s

Josef Hofstätter, Austrian, 1890 - 1984

by 1960s

bought by his younger son, Wolfgang Hofstätter, Austrian, died 1977 (Vienna, Austria)

by 1977

bought by his older brother, Reinhold Hofstätter, born 1928 (Vienna, Austria)

2008

Sascha Mehringer (Vienna), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008.

Exhibitions
Merkwürdige Lebensgeschichte des F.X. Messerschmidt, k.k. öffentlichen Lehrer der Bildhauerkunst (1793) (cat. 21)
  • Bürgerspital Kärntnertor, (Vienna), 1793
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (September 16, 2010 to April 25, 2011) (16)
  • Neue Galerie (New York), September 16, 2010 to January 10, 2011
  • Musée du Louvre, (Paris), January 26 to April 25, 2011
Messerschmidt and Modernity (July 24 to October 14, 2012) (16)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), July 24 to October 14, 2012
Bibliography

Anonymous, Merkwürdige Lebensgeschichte des Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, k. k. öffentlichen Lehrer der Bildhauerkunst. Herausgegeben von dem Verfasser der freimüthigen Briefe über Böhmens und Österreichs Schaafzucht, exh. cat. (Vienna, 1794), p. 54, no. 21.

Anonymous, Merkwürdige Lebensgeschichte des Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, k. k. öffentlichen Lehrer der Bildhauerkunst. Herausgegeben von dem Verfasser der freimüthigen Briefe über Böhmens und Österreichs Schaafzucht, (Vienna, 1808), p. 48.

Paris und Wien. Ein fortgehendes Panorama dieser beiden Haupstädte, II, no. 7 (Rudolstadt, 1812), p. 265, metioned as "Der Verdriessliche."

Anonymous, Kurzer Auszug aus der Biographie des Franz Xav. Messerschmidt, dewesen öffentlichen Lehrers der Bildhauerkunst in Wien und Hofbildhauers in München (Vienna, 1835), p. 19.

Anonymous, Merkwürdige Lebensgeschichte des Franz Xaver Messerschmidt gewesen k.k. öffentlichen Lehrers der Bildhauerkunst in Wien und Hofbildhauers in München. Mit kurzen Bemerkungen über dessen neuen und vierzig Original-Charakter-Büsten (Vienna, 1852), p. 32.

Anonymous, Fr. Xav. Messerschmidt's Büsten-Charakteristik von Dr. G. H. (Vienna, 1858), p. 17 ("Hypochonder").

Ilg, Albert. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt's Leben und Werke (Leipzig: G. Freytag G.M.B.H., 1885), pp. 51, 58.

Wlha, Josef. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt: Charakterköpfe (Vienna and Leipzig, 1906), pl. no. 39.

Weiß, Gabriele. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Ein Bildhauer des 18. Jahrhundert, Ph.D. diss. (Vienna, 1924), p. 48 ("Der Verdrießliche Keiserstein").

Kris, Ernst. "Die Charakterköpfe des Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. Vesuch einer historischen und psychologischen Deutung", Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, NF, VI, (1932), ill. 198, no. 195, p. 199, no. 196, p. 205.

Kris, Ernst. "Ein geisteskranker Bildhauer (Die Charakterköpfe des Franz Xaver Messerschmidt)." In Imago, Zeitschrift für psychoanalytische Psychologie, Ihre Grezgebiete und Anwendungen 19 (1933), pp. 392-93, fig. 14.

Staré umení na Slovensku, odkaz zeme a lidu, exh. cat. (Praha, 1937), p. 55, no 437 c.

Malíková, Mária. Frantisek Xaver Messerschmidt, Dipl. Arbeit (Bratislava, 1959), p. 183 and following.

Malíková, Mária. Frantisek Xaver Messerschmidt, Ph.D. Diss. (Brno, 1968) p. 84 and following.

Kris, Ernst. Psychoanalitic Explorations in Art (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), pp. 7, 135, fig. 35.

Pötzl-Malikova, Maria. "Die Charakterköpfe." In Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Vienna: Jugend und Volk, 1982), pp. 72, 194-95, ill.

Pötzl-Malikova, Maria. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (Vienna: Jugend und Volk, 1982), p. 252, under no. 87, ill.

Gonzales-Day, Ken. "Portraits at a Museum: An Artist's Project." Getty Research Journal no. 2 (2010), pp. 209, 211, fig. 1, cover ill.

Boström, Antonia. "Messerschmidt's Artistic Reception at the Two Fins-de-Siècle." In Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783, exh. cat. Maria Pötzl-Malikova and Guilhem Scherf, eds. (New York: Neue Galerie; Paris: Louvre Éditions; Milan, 2011), pp. 43-44, 47, 51-52, fig. 32.

Pötzl-Malikova, Maria and Scherf, Guilhem, eds. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783, exh. cat. (New York: Neue Galerie; Paris: Louvre éditions; Milan: Officina Libraria, 2011), pp. 132-133, under no. 16, ill, entry by Maria Pötzl-Malikova.

Pötzl-Malikova, Maria and Guilhem Scherf, eds. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783, exh. cat. (Paris: Musée du Louvre; Paris: Louvre éditions, 2011), pp. 132-35, no. 16, ill. entry by Maria Pötzl-Malikova.

Boström, Antonia. "La fortune artistique de Messerschmidt: deux fins de siècle." In Franz Xaver Messerschmidt 1736-1783, exh. cat. Pötzl-Malikova, Maria and Guilhem Scherf, eds. (Paris: Musée du Louvre; Paris: Louvre éditions, 2011), pp. 43-44, 46, 51-52, fig. 32.

Boström, Antonia. Messerschmidt and Modernity (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012), pp. 1, 52, 54-55, 64, ill., cover ill.

Education Resources

Education Resource

Subjects

Grades

Format

Illustrating Similes

Lesson in which students observe emotions, create similes, and illustrate a waiting narrative

Visual Arts; English–Language Arts

3-5

Three/Five-Part Lesson

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