The Vexed Man

Object Details


The Vexed Man


Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (German, 1736 - 1783)




Austria (Place created)


1771 - 1783




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.

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)


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

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
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