Oskar Kokoschka


Kokoschka was born in P^chlarn, a Danube town, on March 1, 1886. He
studied at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts from 1905 to 1908. As
an early exponent of the avant-garde expressionist movement, he began
to paint psychologically penetrating portraits of Viennese physicians,
architects, and artists. Among these works are Hans Tietze and Erica
Tietze-Conrat (1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York City), August Forel
(1910, Mannheim Art Gallery, Germany), and Self-Portrait (1913, Museum
of Modern Art). Kokoschka was wounded in World War I (1914-1918) and
diagnosed as psychologically unstable. He taught art at the Dresden
Academy from 1919 to 1924. During this time he painted The Power of
Music (1919, Dresden Paintings Collection, Dresden). A succeeding
seven-year period of travel in Europe and the Middle East resulted in a
number of robust, brilliantly colored landscapes and figure pieces,
painted with great freedom and exuberance. Many of them are views of
harbors, mountains, and cities. Kokoschka, one of the artists
denounced by the Nazi government of Germany as degenerate, moved in
1938 to England, where he painted antiwar pictures during World War II
(1939-1945) and became a British subject in 1947. After the war he
visited the United States and settled in Switzerland. He died in
Montreux on February 22, 1980. Best known as a painter, Kokoschka was
also a writer. His literary works include poetry and plays not
translated into English and a collection of short stories, A Sea Ringed
with Visions (1956; translated 1962). His father was a silversmith
from Prague who experienced financial difficulties when the market for
such handcrafted goods dried out with mass industrialization. Oskar^s
exposure to his father^s craftsmanship, however, was said to play a
large part in his art and enthusiasm for craftsmanship. In 1908, a
book called The Dreaming Youths was published, and it featured
illustrations by Kokoschka. They were done in a style that was indebted
to Gustav Klimt, whose Secession group was going strong at the time.
Kokoschka was teaching at the School of Arts and Crafts where he had
studied himself under Franz Cizek. Cizek was among the first to
recognize the young artist^s talents. In Vienna, Kokoschka wrote
dramas such as The Assassin, Murderer, and The Hope of Women; and they,
along with his art, were considered too radical for the aristocracy.
Despite support from architect Adolf Loos and good reaction from his
participation in the 1908 and 1909 exhibits at the Kunstschau, Vienna
was not kind to Kokoschka. In 1910, he moved to Berlin. In Berlin, he
got the help of Herwarth Walden, the founder and editor of the art
journal Der Sturm and a proponent of Expressionism. Until the outset of
World War I, Kokoschka painted portraits of German (and Austrian)
intelligentsia in a style he called "black painting," as they, in his
words, "painted the soul^s dirtiness." His portrait of poet Peter
Altenberg, made in 1909, has the figure almost blending into the
frame^s Expressionist background; and his portraits of Count Verona,
Joseph de Montesquiou-Ferendac and Walden himself are textbook examples
of the Expressionist, swirling, Van Gough-like images that evoked a
sense of decadence. Between 1912 and 1914, Kokoschka had a
relationship with Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler. She
was a woman of great influence who had inspired no less than poet
Rainer Maria Rilke, and was involved also with Bauhaus founder Walter
Gropius. After World War I broke out, Kokoschka volunteered for the
Imperial and Royal 15th Dragoons, and in 1915 he was sent to the front,
where he was seriously injured. He was hospitalized several times in
both Vienna and Stockholm and was discharged from military service in
1916. In 1919, he was appointed to a professorship at the Dresden
Academy, and when he left the Academy in 1924 he traveled for a decade
through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. He then stayed a
while in the artistic quarter of Paris, but he never felt at home in
that environment. Eventually, he returned to Vienna, where he completed
Vienna, View From the Wilhelminberg for the Vienna Municipal Council.
In 1934, Kokoschka moved to Prague after being alarmed by political
developments in Germany and Austria. There he met Olda Pavlovska, who
would later become his wife, and also Thomas Masaryk, the first
president of the Czech Republic. In Prague, he voiced his displeasure
with the Nazi regime in Germany; and as a result, his work was
considered "degenerate art" by the Nazis. When Germany annexed Austria
in 1938 and occupied Czechoslovakia that same year, Kokoschka fled to
England with Olda. Kokoschka sold and donated many of his works on
behalf of humanitarian causes as well as launching a poster campaign in
1945. It featured a lithographed poster that read, "In memory of the
children of Europe who have to die of cold and hunger this Christmas."
Every summer from 1953 to 1963, he taught at the Salzburg School of
Seeing, where he presented his ideas of expression via the senses. He
continued his humanitarian work as well as exhibiting his work in
Basel, New York and Venice. Kokoschka and Olda settled finally in
Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1980. Most authors will
tell prospective writers to ^write what you know.^ My impression of
Kokoschka is that he did just that. He was tormented for most of his
life. He wrote his father in 1922 saying, ^I believe, in all
seriousness, that I am now the best painter on earth.^ He wrote to the
people of Dresden not to have their ^war^ in front of the art gallery
and traveled more than any other artist known at the time. I don^t find
his painting or his writings very settling and extremely lacking in


Schroder, Klaus A, et al (October, 1991), Oskar Kokoschka, International Book Import Service, Inc., Austria/NY.

Weidinger, Alfred, et al. (September, 1996), Kokoschka and Alma Mahler: Testimony to a 
Passionate Relationship, International Book Import Service, Austria/NY.

Winkler, Johann (August, 1997), Oskar Kokoschka, International Book Import Service, Austria/NY

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