1886 Pöchlarn, Lower Austria to 1980 Villeneuve, Switzerland
Oskar Kokoschka was an influential forerunner of expressionism, as painter, graphic artist and writer. His early portraits already manifest the intention of turning the moods of the subjects "inside out" and of refusing to be obstructed by the conventional requirements of a portrait. With its twelve oil paintings, five of them portraits, the Belvedere owns a superlative Kokoschka collection. The intensity of colour, expression and motif is a gauge for the course and length of the artist's extraordinary, creative career.
The foundation stone for the extraordinary inventory of Oskar Kokoschka’s works was laid when the museum bought the Still Life with Lamb and Hyacinth (1910). This sombre picture shows a very idiosyncratic and oppressive selection of constituents, embedded in a magically uneasy light.
Kokoschka caused furore through his turbulent works early on in his career. At his exhibition debut as part of the famous Vienna Kunstschau (Art Show) in 1908 he was already being called the " Oberwildling" (The Wildest). After his initial enthusiasm for art nouveau and working for the Wiener Werkstätte, he made a radical volte-face and left the line of beauty and the aesthetics of Viennese art nouveau behind him.
Kokoschka’s work was from now on now dominated by avant-garde expressionism. His portraits ? the young Fred Goldmann or the dynamic painter and organiser Carl Moll, for instance, manifest the inner, mental state and mood of the subject turned inside out, as it were, not so much the obvious representation of appearance.
Kokoschka’s graphic, and literary, talent materialised among other things in his work for the avant-garde newspaper " Der Sturm" in Berlin. In 1916, Dresden became the centre of the artist’s life, where he was given a professorship in 1919. The portrait of his mother made in the early period in Dresden is striking for its thick and undulating application of the paint. The portrayal of the Mother and Child he painted in Dresden a few years later is like a refulgent pictorial carpet, a cluster of intense colour planes.
Kokoschka’s life was notable for a long period of creativity full of fateful events, many journeys and long stays abroad. These experiences are captured in his city portraits, such as Prague Harbour (1936). 417 works by Kokoschka were confiscated in 1937; he emigrated to London in 1938.
When Oskar Kokoschka died in 1980 in Montreux, the Belvedere purchased another idiosyncratic "portrait" by the much admired "painter of the soul": the Tigon (1926), in which he managed to portray the power, strength and majesty of the animal he had seen in Regent’s Park Zoo in London in 1926. Also represented in the collection are major works from his later period, like the monumental Herodotus (1960-72), which grew layer by layer as the years went by, letting flashes of the artist’s countenance forge Herodotus’s facial features.
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