Maria Lassnig was born in Kappel am Krappfeld, Austria on September 8, 1919. Lassnig was an Austrian artist known for her painted self-portraits and her theory of "body awareness". She was the first female artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988 and was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 2005. Lassnig lived and taught in Vienna from 1980 until her death on May 6, 2014.
Lassnig attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during World War II. Then, in the 1950s, Lassnig was part of the Hundsgruppe ("Dog Pack") group, which also included Arnulf Rainer, Ernst Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer and Wolfgang Hollegha. The works of the group were influenced by abstract expressionism and action painting. In 1951 Lassnig traveled to Paris with Arnulf Rainer where they organized the exhibition Junge unifigurative Malerei at the Kärnten Art Association. In Paris, she also met the surrealist artist André Breton and the poets Paul Celan and Benjamin Péret.
Though Lassnig began her career painting abstract works, she always created self-portraits. One of her earliest was Expressive Self-Portrait (1945), which she painted only weeks after fleeing Vienna. In 1948, Lassnig coined the term "body consciousness" to describe her practice. In this style, Lassnig only depicted the parts of her body that she actually felt as she worked. As such, many of her self-portraits depict figures that are missing body parts or use unnatural colours. By the 1960s, Lassnig turned away from abstract painting altogether and began to focus more wholly on the human body and psyche. Since that time she created hundreds of self-portraits. Most of her work in the 1970s and 1980s paired her own image with objects, animals or other people, frequently with a blocked out or averted gaze, suggesting interiority.
From 1968 to 1980, Lassnig lived in New York City. From 1970 to 1972, she studied animated film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. During this time, she made six short films including Selfportrait (1971) and Couples (1972). Her most famous film, however, Kantate (also known as The Ballad of Maria Lassnig), was produced in 1992 when she was seventy-three years old. Kantate (1992) depicts a filmic self-portrait of the artist set to songs and music.
In 1980, she returned to become a professor at the Vienna University of Applied Arts, becoming the first female professor of painting in a German-speaking country. She was a chair at the University until 1997. In 1997, she also published a book of her drawings entitled Die Feder ist die Schwester des Pinsels (or The Pen is the Sister of the Paintbrush).