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Oskar Kokoschka Famous Paintings
Dawit Abeza
Oskar Kokoschka Famous Paintings

Oskar Kokoschka Famous Paintings

Oskar Kokoschka Biography

Oskar Kokoschka was born March 1, 1886, in the Austrian town of Pöchlarn. He spent most of his youth in Vienna, where he entered the Kunstgewerbeschule in 1904 or 1905. While still a student, he painted fans and postcards for the Wiener Werkstätte, which published his first book of poetry in 1908. That same year, Kokoschka was fiercely criticized for the works he exhibited in the Vienna Kunstschau and consequently was dismissed from the Kunstgewerbeschule. At this time, he attracted the attention of the architect Adolf Loos, who became his most vigorous supporter. In this early period, Kokoschka wrote plays that are considered among the first examples of expressionist drama.

His first solo show was held at the Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin, in 1910, followed later that year by another at the Museum Folkwang Essen. In 1910, he also began to contribute to Herwarth Walden’s periodical Der Sturm. Kokoschka concentrated on portraiture, dividing his time between Berlin and Vienna from 1910 to 1914. In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered to serve on the eastern front, where he was seriously wounded. Still recuperating in 1917, he settled in Dresden and in 1919 accepted a professorship at the Akademie there. In 1918, Paul Westheim’s comprehensive monograph on the artist was published.

Kokoschka traveled extensively during the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. In 1931, he returned to Vienna but, as a result of the Nazis’ growing power, he moved to Prague in 1935. He acquired Czechoslovak citizenship two years later. Kokoschka painted a portrait of Czechoslovakia’s president Thomas Garrigue Masaryk in 1936, and the two became friends. In 1937, the Nazis condemned his work as “degenerate art” and removed it from public view. The artist fled to England in 1938, the year of his first solo show in the United States at the Buchholz Gallery in New York. In 1947, he became a British national. Two important traveling shows of Kokoschka’s work originated in Boston and Munich in 1948 and 1950, respectively. In 1953, he settled in Villeneuve, near Geneva, and began teaching at the Internationale Sommer Akademie für Bildenden Künste, where he initiated his Schule des Sehens. Kokoschka’s collected writings were published in 1956, and around this time he became involved in stage design. In 1962, he was honored with a retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London. Kokoschka died February 22, 1980, in Montreux, Switzerland.

Oskar Kokoschka Artworks

Oskar Kokoschka Alma Mahler

Oskar Kokoschka Alma Mahler

In the early days of their acquaintance, in April 1912, Alma Mahler asked Kokoschka to paint her portrait. Kokoschka had her pose as a new Gioconda and gave her the same mysterious features as those given by Leonardo to his Mona Lisa. He painted the beautiful young woman in a delicate, iridescent hue, blue-eyed and strawberry blonde, with long, loose, disheveled hair. At the same time, with her narrow, energetic mouth, she appears very determined, almost dangerous. Alma herself perceived herself in the portrait as Lucrezia Borgia, the beautiful Renaissance princess who attracted famous artists such as Ariost to the Ferrarese court and who became notorious as a result of her wild love life. 

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The Bride of the Wind or The Tempest by Oskar Kokoschka

Bride of the wind Oskar Kokoschka

In nervous, swirling and frantic brushstrokes Kokoschka painted two lovers lying side by side in a sad embrace. The woman is asleep, her eyes are peacefully closed and while she is sailing the seas of dreams, unaware of the shadows of reality that grow bigger with each passing hour of the night, the man is awake. His deep-set eyes gaze into the void, his cheeks are hollow, his fingers ugly and twisted, his chin protruding, his skin taunted over his bones; he might as well be a skeleton already. While their bodies are painted in quick nervous strokes of white color with dashes of yellow and blue the abstract space around them is made out of swirls of black and midnight blue. The blueness of the space around them might, in different circumstances, lead us to thoughts of something spiritual and serene, a vast blue sky or a calm sea, but his frantic brush strokes have dismissed such thoughts. It’s difficult, or rather impossible to determine the setting, for the whole space appears to us like a nihilistic swamp of darkness and despair; it’s a world from a dark dream, a nightmare, a premonition of the future, a scream from the bottom of one’s being.

The painting allegorically represents the painter and his beloved Alma Mahler who was at the time his lover and the wife of the composer Gustav Mahler. They are carried by strong gusts of wind, but it isn’t the wind of passion that carried Paolo and Francesca in Dante’s hell, but the wind of anxiety, uncertainty and the futility of everything. Oskar Kokoschka was a representative of the Viennese Expressionism and this catastrophic vision of the world and the future is typically Expressionistic. The same dreary mood fills his portraits which all have a psychological aspect to them and look as if they were made out of mud and tears, and is similar to the painting of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s paintings with an urban mood of alienation and premonitions of catastrophe that the World War One was about to bring. Expressionistic art was a whirlwind of colors and screams created from the nervous energy of the antebellum period, and although many artists shared the sentiment, none experienced it so deeply and profoundly as the artists who were the closest to the fire, that is those who lived in the Austria-Hungarian Empire; Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, poets Georg Trakl and August Stramm, Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, and many others across the vast decaying empire.

So, the painting is infused with his personal torments of life and love and fragile nature of both, but at the same time, it holds a deeper meaning because it perfectly represents the changing times and the political and cultural changes that were taking place. The painting mirrors the uncertainties that the future beholds; both the fleeting nature of love and passion and the political instability that affects everyone. 

The Dreaming Boys by Oskar Kokoschka

Oskar Kokoschka The Dreaming Boys

This is Kokoschka's first major graphic work. 'Die traümenden Knaben' was made following a commission to produce a children's book. Reactions to the book were mixed, partly due to the erotic imagery. The use of stylization, distorted figures, and a folk-art style look forward to Expressionism. Japanese woodcuts were also an inspiration, as can be seen in the way Kokoschka uses black outlines and flat areas of bright colors. Kokoschka dedicated the book to Gustav Klimt, who was a leading Austrian artist at the time and a powerful influence on him.

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Venice Dogana by Oskar Kokoschka

Oskar Kokoschka Venice Dogana

In the summer of 1948, Kokoschka and his wife traveled to Venice in advance of the Venice Biennale, where Kokoschka represented Austria with several of his paintings. From his hotel room, he completed this panoramic, postcard scene of the San Marco Basin. One can see the grand church of San Giorgio Maggiore in the center of the composition and the Punta della Dogana, the old Custom House that is now a museum, on the right. A number of boats populate the canal. Color still operates descriptively here, but it is also stretched and saturated to enhance the brightness of the cityscape; whites, yellows, blues, and reds are distributed on the canvas to create a grand spectacle of light. 

While Kokoschka reveled in his earlier rebel status as a young Expressionist, here we see him inserting himself into a long tradition of European landscape painting, going back to Canaletto, who painted Venice so magisterially, and the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, such as Monet and Signac. Kokoschka retains his bright color and short, energetic brushstrokes in this landscape painting, but instead of presenting a foreboding or anxious scene (a type of scene he specialized in earlier), Kokoschka relishes the Mediterranean light as it plays across the water and the gleaming buildings.

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Oskar Kokoschka Self-portrait

Oskar Kokoschka Self-portrait

Eight of Kokoschka's paintings were included in the exhibition of Degenerate 'Art' organized by the Nazis to pour scorn on modern art. The artist altered the position of his arms in this painting, to make them defiantly crossed, in response to his inclusion in the exhibition. The background shows the woods behind the house belonging to his future wife's grandparents, where he had begun the painting. A deer can be seen on the right and a running figure on the left. It has been suggested that both of these elements refer to flight or pursuit and to the artist as a hunted man.

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Oskar Kokoschka self-portrait with hand by his face

Oskar Kokoschka Self-Portrait with Hand by his face

Oskar Kokoschka Prints

Sleeping Woman by Oskar Kokoschka

 

In 1907, Fritz Waerndorfer, the financial backer of the Wiener Werkstätte, the leading design workshop in Vienna, commissioned Oskar Kokoschka, still a student at Vienna's Kunstgewerbeschule (School of decorative arts), to make an illustrated fairy tale for his children.

The young girl in ‘Sleeping Woman’ is very much alone. Although there are animals in the picture, she is separated from them by a brick wall and the water around her. Pairs of animals emphasize her solitude, as two redfish loom in the water, two bluebirds balance on the wall of the castle, and a stag and a deer emerge from the woods. At the center of this is the sleeping girl, both melancholy and peaceful.

Kokoschka uses flat and uniform colors, with red, blue, green, and yellow used throughout the book. Framed by black, each object in the drawing is given a thick outline. Clearly-defined areas of black, white, and color create a multi-colored tapestry of shape and pattern, emphasized by the flattened sense of perspective. Long and curving lines of water contrast with the more jagged outlines of the trees, and the sharp lines of the bricks balance with the softer forms of the flowers and plants. Some shapes even seem to dissolve into the black, with the woman’s figure formed entirely by small colored squares. 

The stylized patterning in Kokoschka's lithographs is typical of the dominant decorative approach in fin-de-siècle Vienna, and show his confident assimilation of various "primitivist" currents in European art, such as in the cloisonné-like outlines, unconventional perspective, and flat planes of color.

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The Sleepers by Oskar Kokoschka

 

In 1907, Fritz Waerndorfer, the financial backer of the Wiener Werkstätte, the leading design workshop in Vienna, commissioned Oskar Kokoschka, still a student at Vienna's Kunstgewerbeschule (School of decorative arts), to make an illustrated fairy tale for his children. Kokoschka instead delivered a haunting poem about awakening adolescent sexuality set on far-off islands, away from the modern city and bourgeois life. His carefully composed text alluded to classical and contemporary literature by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Viennese writer Peter Altenberg. Kokoschka dedicated the volume to artist Gustav Klimt, from whom he borrowed the square format for the images, which push the text to the margins. The stylized patterning in Kokoschka's lithographs is typical of the dominant decorative approach in fin-de-siècle Vienna, and show his confident assimilation of various "primitivist" currents in European art, such as in the cloisonné-like outlines, unconventional perspective, and flat planes of color.

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Albert Ehrenstein by Oskar Kokoschka

 

Portrait of Poet Albert Ehrenstein is among Kokoschka’s paramount portraits seeking to depict the psyche and emotions of the model. Moreover, Kokoschka implemented new forms of style typical primarily for the years 1913-1914. His abrupt brushstrokes underlined and highlighted the main features of the garment and reduced the colors into blue, green, and cream tones. The diagonal composition and certain deformation are typical also for the further works by this artist during the same period of time. Albert Ehrenstein, who was one of the first to pursue the work by Franz Kafka, was Kokoschka’s favorite poet; the two established a friendly relationship.

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Oskar Kokoschka Paintings For Sale

Augustus Bridge - Dresden by Oskar Kokoschka

 

In his Dresden period (1919-1923), Kokoschka painted nine panoramic views of the city altogether; they show the painter's view from the window of his studio in the Akademie not far from the Brühlschen Terrasse. The painting in Essen, probably the last of this series, is the only one in which Kokoschka extended the composition to include a figure overlooking the landscape. It shows the view over the August Bridge and the Marien Bridge towards Lössnitzberge: to the left in the distance you can see the Elbspeicher and the steeple of the Jacobi Church; towards the middle you come to the stocky tower of the machine and boiler yard of the Ostragehege slaughterhouse, followed by a group of houses on Neustädter Ufer next to the August Bridge on the right edge of the painting. There have been controversial speculation concerning the figure from the back in the foreground. It can be seen as a self-portrait of the artist, who was just about to leave Dresden when the painting was made. According to a later statement by Kokoschka's widow, the painter had used one of his students as a model. A third interpretation sees a view of the back of one of the stone putti on the balustrade surrounding the roof of the one-story painting room of the Akademie.

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Franz Hauer by Oskar Kokoschka

 

A portrait of Franz Hauer the legendary Viennese art collector. The son of a mailman from Lower Austria became one of the key figures of his time. Franz Hauer started out penniless, became an exemplary self-made man, and built an art collection with important groups of works by Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka. Today, its treasures are held by numerous important museums in Europe and the US. After becoming exceedingly wealthy by running the legendary Griechenbeisl restaurant in Vienna, Franz Hauer began acquiring art and soon turned to the latest artistic currents of his day. He owned important groups of works by Albin Egger-Lienz, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka. He passed away in 1914 at the age of 47, and in the years after his death, almost the entire collection was sold.

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Tre Croci - Dolomite Landscape by Oskar Kokoschka

 

In August of 1913, Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler took a trip through the Dolomites. In her memoirs, Alma stated that while there, the life of the two “prioritized only his work”: “In the morning, we went through the thick forest and investigated the dark green patches. We found young horses playing in a clearing, which immediately excited Oskar Kokoschka. We had his portfolio and crayons with us, and, despite his frantic fear of loneliness, he stayed on alone to finish these drawings, which came out to be uniquely beautiful.” With this landscape painting, the artist was able to monumentalize his journey through the Dolomites. It is one of the most impressive works in his oeuvre, and also maintains an element of the uncanny. Through numerous saturated shades of green and blue that are partly enriched by purple accents, Kokoschka conveyed a cool and damp impression of this mountain vista. It wasn’t captured at a discernable time of day and on the sketch are found only the words “Nach dem Gewitter,” or “After the storm.” This also explains the magical quality to the light, the bright green of the meadows, the water making its way to the little cart, and horse grazing on the freshly watered grass.

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Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat by Oskar Kokoschka 

 

Kokoschka depicts his subjects, prominent Viennese art historians Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat who were supporters of contemporary art, not so much as they actually looked but how he understood their psyches. He described his friends as "closed personalities so full of tension." The figures do not face each other, and Erica's posture with her arms across her chest further divides her from her husband. The two stare off into different distances, not even looking at the viewer. This trance-like state separates each from the other and from the viewer. Their exaggerated and distorted hands are about to touch or have just touched, creating an electrifying tension. The hands, with their long, sinewy fingers and odd colors also convey a sense of nervousness or uncertainty. 

Kokoschka often set his sitters in an indeterminate space. Here he fills the background with thin layers of swirling browns, yellows, oranges, and greens and, using the end of his paintbrush, scratched lines emanating from the figures. By refusing to place the couple in a physical setting, Kokoschka signals his interest lies in their psychological states and the energy they discharge. Kokoschka spoke of his response to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which documented that humans and primates were closely related species; he said, "The sense of familiarity and intimacy within mankind gave way to a feeling of alienation as if we had never really known ourselves before. I myself was more affected by this than I would admit, which is why, to confront the problem, I started painting portraits." One could point to a host of sources for modern man's feelings of alienation in society, and Kokoschka vowed to render that alienation and anxiety visible.

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