This article was written by Wendy Tibbitts for the Amersham Society/Amersham Museum newsletter and is reproduced here with permission.
Copyright in these three pictures is held by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky Charitable Trust 2015.
In 1941, on the corner of Chestnut Lane and Chestnut Close, stood 86 Chestnut Lane, otherwise known as ‘Cornerways’. The house belonged to the artist Marie-Louise von Motesiczky, and her Mother, Henrietta. They lived there with their Housekeeper, Marie Hauptmann, until around 1950. It had a large garden where they kept chickens and grew vegetables. The house still exists, but a more recent dwelling has taken over the corner position.
Marie-Louise von Motesiczky was born into the cultural high society of Vienna in 1906. In her wealthy family’s social circles she mixed with the creative elite of her day. As a teenager she was greatly impressed with a regular visitor, the German artist Max Beckmann, who encouraged her artistic inclination and mentored her for the rest of his life. She took art lessons in Holland, Germany and Paris, and was influenced by a variety of artists but strove to develop an individual style. After the Nazi’s invaded Austria, she and her Mother, fled to Holland , but after a few months emigrated to Britain, where Marie Hauptmann, their long-time housekeeper, joined them. After living in hotels and rented accommodation they moved to Amersham and lodged in Stubbs Wood, Chesham Bois. Marie-Louise’s biographer says they stayed with the Rev. Gordon Milburn in ‘Durris’, but Elias Canetti in his book “Party in the Blitz” recalls visiting Marie-Louise when she was living at Mrs Meakin’s in Stubbs Wood. The wealth that Marie-Louise had been born into was gradually diminishing, and they were forced to leave most of their possessions in Vienna, however they had sufficient funds to buy ‘Cornerways’, and Marie-Louise was able to paint full-time and not rely on the sale of her paintings for income. In fact, at that time, she still felt she was developing her style, and was reluctant to sell her paintings. The spacious sitting room on the ground floor of ‘Cornerways’ was her studio.
The Motesiczky’s house in Amersham had many notable visitors, including the painter, Oskar Kokoschka, and the Nobel-prize winning writer Elias Canetti and his wife. The Canetti’s, who were fellow émigrés, had met the Motesiczkys in London and had followed them to Amersham where they lived out the war years with Gordon Milburn. It was the start of a very close life-long friendship between Marie-Louise and Elias. Marie-Louise painted “Father Milburn” in 1958.
Marie-Louise’s proximity to the Music Studio in Chestnut Close meant that she would occasionally attend some of the cultural evenings there. In Mabel Brailsford’s diary for September 1942, Mabel recalls that the artist had just finished a portrait of the composer and pianist, Francesco Ticciati, “all but the suit”. Later that month Mabel was shown the portrait at a London concert where Ticciati was playing. Mabel disliked the portrait because she said painting him with “his mouth open wipes out all the nobility from his face”, and she described Marie-Louise as “a dainty cap-a-pie looking little person with a very ‘I keep myself to myself’ manner – the last person you would expect to perpetrate such a coarse unpleasant daub”. (The diary was published by Amersham Museum in 2016.) Marie-Louise was also at the concert. The following day the portrait was returned to Marie-Louise, by the organiser of the concert. It is not known what became of this painting as it is not listed among her known works.
Marie-Louise became a British citizen in 1948 and later moved to Hampstead where she remained until her death in 1996. Her paintings are hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate and leading art galleries around the world.
Read more in an article by Alison Bailey, Two Talented Women Artists in Exile during WWII.