To evaluate hepatic relaxation times T1, T2 and T2* in healthy subjects and patients with liver cirrhosis stratified by the Child-Pugh classification (CPC). Sixty-one consecutive patients were stratified by CPC (class A = 26; B = 20; C = 15) and compared with age-matched controls (n = 31). Relaxometry measurements were performed at 1.5 T using six saturation recovery times (200–3,000 ms) to determine liver T1, six echo times (TE 14–113 ms) for T2 and eight TE (4.8–38 ms) for T2* assessment. Signal intensities in selected regions of interest in the liver parenchyma were fitted to theoretical models with least squares minimisation algorithms to determine T1, T2 and T2*. The most significant difference was the higher T1 values (852 ± 132 ms) in cirrhotic livers compared with controls (678 ± 45 ms, P < 0.0001). A less significant difference was seen for T2* (23 ± 5 vs. 26 ± 7 ms). Subdifferentiation showed a statistically significant difference between control group and individual CPC classes as well as between class C and classes A or B for T1 relaxation times. Measurement of T1 relaxation time can differentiate healthy subjects from patients with liver cirrhosis, and can distinguish between mild/moderate disease (CPC A/B) and advanced disease (CPC C). • Significantly elevated magnetic resonance T1 relaxation times are found in liver cirrhosis. • T1 relaxation times can distinguish healthy subjects from patients with liver cirrhosis. • T1 relaxation times can distinguish Child–Pugh classes A and B from C.