Two women. Two art exhibitions. Two very different approaches.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "The Old Song" 1959
Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“The Old Song” 1959

Marie-Louise Motesiczky‘s “The Mother Paintings” at Galerie St. Etienne, is a fascinating look at the life of one woman as she ages while trying to retain her dignity in exile.

Motesiczky’s mother, Henrietta, grew up in an influential Viennese Jewish family. Her mother, Anna, who was written about by Sigmund Freud. When Marie-Louise’s father died in 1909, she became her mother’s caregiver.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "Mother With Baton"
Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“Mother With Baton”

In 1927, Marie-Louise studied under Max Beckmann and his stylistic influence is particularly noticeable in “The Travelers,” painted in 1940, which chronicles the two women’s escape from the Nazis to England, where they settled in Amersham, a village less than 30 miles north of London.

Over the next 40 years, Marie-Louise painted a series of images that ranged from portraits to narrative. The exhibition literature describes her style as representational expressionism. She clearly has the dynamic and colorful style of the expressionists, and some of her portraits have the feel of Oskar Kokoschka.

The portraits of her mother form a stunning document of a life. Marie-Louise’s paintings are honest and do not shirk from seeing frailty, yet they also are painted with love.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "The Travelers"
Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“The Travelers”

The gallery release quotes Motesiczky, stating, “She was almost radiant each time I came into the room. I thought that if I could paint what I saw when she was in this decrepit state, without embellishment and concentrating on the genuine charm in her expression, then I would have done a great thing….I was hoping that the overall impression would convey something of the immediate joy and hope she would show when someone came near her.”

The 35 paintings and drawings are a fascinating exploration of a woman and the basic condition of aging with dignity.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has an exhibition of pictures of one woman by one artist.”Madame Cezanne” features a series of images by Paul Cezanne of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, his most painted model.

MadameCezanne_WebAssets_POSTER_1106142The show features 24 of Cezanne’s 29 portraits of Hortense, painted over a period of 20 years

In all of the portraits, Hortense is serious and mostly in the same pose. Instead of being a celebration of the woman, as in Motesiczky’s show, she is presented as an object to be explored over and over to develop the artist’s craft.

“Her expression in the painted portraits has been variously described as remote, inscrutable, dismissive, and even surly,” the museum release states. “And yet the portraits are at once alluring and confounding, recording a complex working dialogue ….”

Two paintings of Madame Cezanne in a red dress by Paul Cezanne
Two paintings of Madame Cezanne in a red dress by Paul Cezanne

A series of images of Madame Cezanne in the same red dress are fascinating. They are all the same in pose, but all different as Cezanne plays with style and technique. They offer a glimpse into the artist’s process.

The exhibition also includes three watercolors, 14 drawings, and three sketchbooks. It is in the sketchbooks that the formality eases as Cezanne whips off quick drawings of Hortense and their son Paul in domestic settings.

Probably the difference in the two exhibitions is that “Madame Cezanne” is a show about the artist. We are given little about the subject, except the stoic ability to sit still for a long, long time — she doesn’t even seem to be enjoying it. Motesiczky’s “Mother Paintings” are all about the subject.

Both are worth seeing for different reasons. As an artist, I value the insight into Cezanne’s work, but as an art lover, Motesiczky’s exhibition is the more powerful and affecting.

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