Recommended by Graeme Humphries (Deputy Director – Administration and Marketing)

  • Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, mostly created: 1777 – 1783
  • Various materials including: gypsum alabaster, wood and tin/lead alloy

I didn’t really know anything about these wonderful character heads until I visited Vienna and saw them in the Belvedere Gallery. Most were created towards the end of Messerschmidt’s life when he was suffering from hallucinations and paranoid ideas.

They are said to represent the 64 canonical grimaces of the human face and they have extraordinary titles such as: ‘The Yawner’, ‘Afflicted with Constipation’, ‘Beak Head’ and, my personal favourite, ‘The Ultimate Simpleton’.

When creating them Messerschmidt apparently applied a series of ‘pinches’ to his lower rib and then observed the effect it had on his face.

My Father-in-law once sent me a series of postcards, each with a different head, and each with a message in wonderfully eccentric German which made reference to my strong liking for cake. On a card with a rather eager looking head he wrote: “Wo is mein Kuchen.” And on another with a smug-looking head he wrote: “Ach – Ich bin is glucklich. Die kuchen was wunderbar.”