Marie-Louise von Motesiczky was born in Vienna, Austria, into a wealthy Viennese Jewish family on 24 October 1906. She left school at the age of 13 to study art privately, attending art classes in Vienna, The Hague, Frankfurt, Paris, and Berlin and, in 1927/8, was invited by Max Beckmann (whom she had first met when she was a teenager) to join his master class at the Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main - he became the most significant artistic influence on her early work. Following the Anschluss (Nazi annexation of Austria) on 12 March 1938, the artist fled to Holland the following day; she held her first exhibition at The Hague in 1939, leaving for London shortly afterwards.

Motesiczky remained in England for the rest of her life. She maintained friendships among the émigré network, particularly with the writer Elias Canetti (who also became her lover) and Oskar Kokoschka - the most important influence on her work in England - as well as sculptor Mary Duras and graphic artist Milein Cosman. In 1943, she joined the Artists’ International Association (AIA), with whom she exhibited, also showing at the Czechoslovak Institute, London in 1944. She held solo exhibitions in The Hague and Amsterdam (1952), the Städtische Galerie, Munich (1954), the Beaux Arts Gallery, London (1960), and in Vienna, Linz, Bremen and Munich (1966); a major retrospective was held at the Goethe Institute, London, to great critical acclaim in 1985. Her oeuvre encompassed portraiture (including latterly many moving portraits of her ageing mother), self-portraits, still-lifes and allegorical paintings.

Marie-Louise von Motesiczky died in London, England on 10 June 1996. Important posthumous exhibitions were held at Tate Liverpool (2006) and in Vienna (2008), and a catalogue raisonée by Ines Schlenker was published in 2009. Her work is held in numerous UK collections including the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge; the National Portrait Gallery; the Southbank Centre and Tate.