Oskar Kokoschka

1886 Pöchlarn – 1980 Montreux

A painter, graphic artist, and writer, Oskar Kokoschka was a seminal pioneer of Expressionism. Even his early portraits reflect his intention of turning the sitter’s state of mind inside out, thereby discarding the common requirements of portraiture.

The Belvedere’s holdings of works by Oskar Kokoschka comprise twelve oil paintings, five of which are portraits. The foundation for this impressive collection was laid with the acquisition of the still life Lamb and Hyacinth (1910). The gloomy composition displays an idiosyncratic and oppressive array of attributes, embedded in a magic, eerie light.

Oskar Kokoschka

Kokoschka’s disturbing works scandalized the public at an early point in time. When he first appeared in an exhibition within the framework of the famous Vienna Art Show in 1908, the nickname Chief of the Wild Ones (Oberwildling) was assigned to him. Following his initial enthusiasm for Viennese Art Nouveau and his involvement with the Wiener Werkstätte, he took a radical turn, abandoning the line of beauty and aesthetics of Art Nouveau. From now on, Kokoschka’s art was informed by the avant-garde of Expressionism. His portraits, such as that of young Fred Goldmann (1909) or that of the energetic painter and organizer Carl Moll (1913), reflect the sitters’ inner lives, i.e., their states of mind or souls, rather than being blunt depictions of outer appearance. Kokoschka’s talents as a graphic artist and writer were also brought to bear during his affiliation with the Berlin-based avant-garde periodical Der Sturm. From 1916 on, the artist lived in Dresden, where he was appointed professor in 1919. Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1917), which dates from his early period in Dresden, is characterized by a thick, undulating application of paint. The picture Mother and Child (1922), also painted in Dresden, if several years later, resembles a brilliant pictorial carpet composed of intensely coloured patches.

Kokoschka’s life, marked by a long, fateful career, with many travels and extensive stays abroad, is reflected in his cityscapes, including Prague Harbour (1936). In 1937, as many as 417 works by Kokoschka were seized within the campaign identifying degenerate art.  Denounced and persecuted by the National Socialists as a degenerate artist, he emigrated to London via Prague in 1938.

In 1980, when Oskar Kokoschka died in Montreux, the Belvedere acquired another idiosyncratic portrait by the acclaimed painter of souls: Tiger Lion (1926). In this painting, he succeeded in capturing the vehemence, strength, and majestic grandeur of the animal, which he portrayed in London Zoo in Regent’s Park. Works dating from his later period also figure in the collection, including his monumental painting Herodotus (1960–72), which grew layer by layer over many, many years. In Herodotus’ face, we can catch glimpses of the artist’s own features.

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