Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980)

Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian painter and writer who was one of the leading exponents of Expressionism. His dramas, poems, and prose are significant for their psychological insight and stylistic daring.

Oskar Kokoschka, The Prometheus Triptych, 1950

Image source: https://courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/

Oskar Kokoschka was an Austrian artist and poet known for his Expressionist portraits and landscapes. Characterized by staccato brushstrokes and bright colors, the artist created works that seem to shiver with energy. “How do I define a work of art?” he once asked. “It a man’s timid attempt to repeat the miracle that the simplest peasant girl is capable of at any time, that of magically producing life out of nothing.”

Early life and studies

Oskar Kokoschka photographie

Oskar Kokoschka was born in 1886 in Pöchlarn, a small town on the Danube, 100 kilometers west of Vienna. His father Gustav, from a German patrician family of goldsmiths, was a travelling salesman and, his mother Maria Romana (née Loidl) was a forester’s daughter from the state of Styria in south east Austria. When asked about his childhood Kokoschka said that he was a very happy child and that his father gave him books which formed him as a man and an artist. Among these were an abbreviated version of the Odyssey and the Orbis Sensualium Pictus, a 1658 textbook for children written by Czech educator John Amos Comenius. From these his appreciation for classical literature and the arts began.

Image source: https://www.theviennasecession.com/

Vibrant landscapes

In 1908 he met the prominent Viennese architect Adolf Loos, who, having been impressed by one of Kokoschka’s early paintings, took an active interest in the young artist. During this early period Kokoschka painted mostly landscapes, developing a technique of vibrant, fluid lines and expressive colours.

Oskar Kokoschka, Dents du Midi, 1909

Image source: https://www.wikiart.org/en/oskar-kokoschka/dent-du-midi

At first glance, Kokoschka’s landscapes seem to follow the principles of the Impressionist school because of their bright colours, ephemeral delineation of shapes, and preoccupation with light. His vision, however, was different from that of the Impressionists, who sought to represent only what strikes the eye. Kokoschka sought to express through his colours the emotional aspects of a scene. This aim is exemplified in one of his earliest paintings, Dents du Midi (1909), a snowscape rendered in warm colours; an Impressionist might have used cool colours to evoke the actual light emanating from the snow.

Portraits expressing preoccupation

Oskar Kokoschka, portrait of Hans Tietze, 1909

Image source: https://www.moma.org/s/ge/collection_ge/

About 1908, shortly before his return to Vienna, Kokoschka began to paint portraits that show an extremely sensitive preoccupation with the character of the subjects, as well as an increasing concern with expressing this character through colour. In early examples of these portraits, he made use of delicate, agitated lines to describe figures, which he painted in relatively naturalistic colours. Kokoschka exaggerated certain features and gestures of the sitters to express their psychological states. Among these portraits, which secured Kokoschka’s early reputation, are those of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat (1909), Peter Altenberg (1909), and Auguste Forel (1910).

Mature paintings

Starting about 1912, Kokoschka painted portraits with brushstrokes that were increasingly broad and colourful, and he used heavier outlines that were broken and that no longer solidly enclosed forms. Among the works painted in this manner are Double Portrait (Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler) (1912) and Self-Portrait, Pointing to the Breast (1913).

Oskar Kokoschka, Bride of the wind, 1914

Image source: https://arthive.com/oskarkokoschka/

Kokoschka’s most important painting of this period, Bride of the wind (1914), shows the artist and Alma Mahler resting together in a huge cockleshell in the midst of a raging sea. In this blue-and-gray composition, all the forms are described by large, loose strokes of colour, and the direction of the strokes seems to cause the entire composition to swirl and spin. In all these paintings, as with the landscapes, the emotional involvement of the artist with the subject is essential, and it continued to be the basis of Kokoschka’s art throughout his life.


Info source: http://www.kokoschka-oskar.com/                                                           https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oskar-Kokoschka/Maturity                https://www.theartstory.org/artist/kokoschka-oskar/                                            http://www.artnet.com/artists/oskar-kokoschka/