18 Jun 2011 - 09 Oct 2011
180 St Kilda Road
Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980)
Oskar Kokoschka was both a writer of revolutionary plays and literature and an artist, but he is best known outside Central Europe for his turbulent, expressive paintings and for his tempestuous affair with Alma Mahler, widow of the great composer Gustav Mahler.
Oskar Kokoschka was born in 1886 in the Austrian Melk, and trained at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna from where he joined the Wiener Werstätte (Vienna Workshop), initially illustrating and designing books and working with the graphic arts. It was there that the architect and critic Adolf Loos discovered him and became his mentor and patron.
In the second Kunstschau (art show) in Vienna in 1909, Kokoschka produced his controversial, anarchic play Murder, the Hope of Women challenging bourgeois morality and gender assumptions. His art at this time incorporated folkloric imagery from the wide reach of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
With Loos’s encouragement, he began to make portraits of Viennese and European notables. Of great originality and dramatic power, these portraits focused on the interior life of the individual, in keeping with the strongly Viennese preoccupation with the psyche at that time. Kokoschka achieved this though an intensely animated and ‘raw’, almost violent application of paint, his wild brushstrokes conjuring the strength and vigour of the sitter’s inner life. His figures often seem to be emerging from or disappearing into a vortex of paint.
Kokoschka and Alma Mahler
Kokoschka’s passionate affair with Alma Mahler ended when she left him to marry the architect Walter Gropius. He never recovered from this rejection and even went so far as to have a life-sized doll made of her, taking it motoring with him into the country, though eventually he destroyed it.
Alma, whom he continued to love all his life, inspired his most celebrate painting, The Tempest or The Bride of the Wind, a vivid allegorical rendering of the passionate lovers.
A great Expressionist
Kokoschka’s art was deemed degenerate by Hitler’s Nazi Party and he was forced to flee Europe, living for a time in England and the United States. Along with the German artist Max Beckmann, he is regarded as the greatest twentieth century Expressionist artist – both idiosyncratic and original.