Oskar Kokoschka

Austria 1886 - 1980 Britain

Florence: View from the Mannelli Tower 1948

SEE ALSO AUSTRIAN ART

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General

Arbitrary use of color. Wrote plays. Interest in Baroque painting. Affinity with German Expressionism. In 1938 he went to Britain to escape Nazi persecution. Died a British subject.

K was won over by Hoffmann as a third master designer for the Wiener Werksatte.

Kokoschka was a pupil of Carl Otto Czeschka and Bertold Loffler at the Kunstgewerbeschule. Czeschka was one of the few established professors (artists) to recognize his talent straight away and helped him. K ran one of the preparatory drawing classes.

Czeschka invited him to participate in the Kuntschau of 1908 where his corner was dubbed by Hevesi, in response to the public's reaction, the 'chamber of horrors.' He displayed Die Traumtragenden (The Bearers of Dreams) four large tapestry designs intended for the decoration of a ballroom, and a plaster bust entitled Warrior which was "skull-like" with "gruesome blue wash, visible nerve endings and wide open mouth." (This is one of a succession of self portraits which include the poster Pieta and illustrations from his drama Morder Hoffnung der Frauen.) Kokoschka's words on the exhibit p. 189. Kolo Moser and Emil Orlik bought some of his sketches, and Loos bought the bust and held it until his death. The failure of the exhibition financially and among the critics can be in part owed to K.  Some members of the public discerned Kokoschka's contributions as a practical joke. This was not the last time K experienced such unanimously hostile response from critics. The heir to the Austrian throne on one occasion Archduke Franz-Ferdinand remarked that he would break every bone in K's body. Otto Wagner fell foul of him at the ceremonial opening of the church 'am Steinhof.' Even Richard Muther a champion of modern art wrote,

Well, Herr Kokoschka, your tapestry designs are revolting. A mixture of fairground images, primitive Indian painting, ethnographic museum, Gauguin gone mad - I don't know. And yet there's nothing for it: I have to admit that I have not witnessed such an interesting debut for years. This enfant terrible is indeed a child, not a n imposter at all, no, a worthy lad.

Klimt defended him. Quote p. 200.

Also shown were the drawings for and a completed volume with beautiful colour lithographs published earlier that year by the Wiener Werkstatte of Die Traumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Youths); a children's fairy tale book written and illustrated by K. He held lectures on all aspects of book production after he lost his job at the Kunstgewerbeschule due to the scandal caused by the Kunstschau. A Wilhelm Laage illustration which appeared in Ver Sacrum seen as a source for these. The vertically conceived space and flat areas of color of Japanese woodcuts which he studied as a pupil are a more far-reaching influence on his graphic style. His words on the commission and execution p. 190. The book was about a girl he was in love with at the school and was an account of his spiritual state at the time. Some of his verses p. 190. Dedicated the first edition to Klimt 'in deepest reverence'.

Other examples literary Expressionism include in his Reminiscences and two early dramas Sphinx und Strohmann (later revised under the title Job), first performed in 1907 and Morder Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer Hope of Woman) which premiered in the open air theater of the Internationale Kunstchau in July 1909 when he met a lifelong acquaintance with the brilliant pre-war German actor-producers Ernst Reinhold. The play was published in the Berlin Der Sturm issue 14 July 1910 along with his drawings.

K wrote in his essay 'On the Nature of Visions' in 1912,

Consciousness is the source of all things and all ideas. It is a sea with visions as its only horizon. Consciousness is a tomb for all things, where they cease to be, the hereafter in which they perish. And thus it would seem that things end up with no existence beyond my inner vision of them. Their spirit is sucked up by that vision as oil in a lamp is drawn up by the wick in order to nourish the flame.

His "search for inner life confers an extradordinary visionary quality upon his works - especially his numerous portraits, which rank among the masterpieces of early Expressionist painting." He painted important literary and artistic figures of the Viennese avant-garde such as Karl Kraus (1909), Anton von Webern, Carl Moll (1913) and Adolf Loos (1909), Ludwig Ritter von janikowsky, Count of Verona, Ernst Reinhold, Dr. Hugo Caro (1910), Else Kupger  (1911).

There are portraits of Alma Mahler, the composers widow, and a double portrait of her and K (c1913) and the most famous of his early paintings: Die Windsbraut (The Tempest 1914), where his "constant self-allegory and his gift of vision are united in a swirling vortex of cloud and wind in which the figures of the lovers, who bear the features of himself and Alma, are carried along in oblivion."

Loos and K met at the Kunstschau and L became a friend and admirer. K remembers that Loos 'sold the carpets out of his won home' to send him to Switzerland where K went in the winter of 1909 and then again in 1910. The landscape he painted there, Dent du Midi (1909-10) with its "infinite space, the sense of overwhelming majesty" shows the "profound impression which the natural grandeur of the Alps made." K made a meager living portrait painting in Switzerland including those of Marquise de Rohan-Montesquieu (1909-10) and Auguste Forel (1910). Notes on these paintings p. 193. His hands remind me of Schiele. K portrayed a psychological document, not just a physical likeness.

Departs for Berlin in 1910, end of an epoch in Viennese painting. "His art, expressive and distorted, already richly Baroque in conception and use of color, profound an dvisionary in its content, was quite unlike anything else being produced in Vienna at this time." Kokoschka joined Herwarth Walden, editor of Der Sturm and illustrated many issues in 1910 and 11.

 

SOURCES

1)    Art in Vienna 1898 - 1918, Peter Vergo Phaidon Press Limited, Oxford, Second Impression 1986. First Published 1975.
2)    The Royal Academy of Art. Derain to Kandinsky: Masters of Colour exhibit.