Oskar Kokoschka

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Oskar Kokoschka
'Bride of the Wind', oil on canvas painting by Oskar Kokoschka, a self-portrait expressing his unrequited love for Alma Mahler (widow of composer Gustav Mahler), 1913.jpg
The Bride of the Wind or The Tempest, oil on canvas, a self-portrait expressing his unrequited love for Alma Mahler, widow of composer Gustav Mahler, 1914
Born 1 March 1886
Pöchlarn, Austria-Hungary
Died 22 February 1980(1980-02-22) (aged 93)
Montreux, Switzerland
Nationality Austrian
Known for Painting, printmaking, poetry, play writing
Movement Expressionism

Oskar Kokoschka (1 March 1886 – 22 February 1980) was an Austrian artist, poet and playwright best known for his intense expressionistic portraits and landscapes.


The second child of Gustav Josef Kokoschka, a Czech goldsmith, and Maria Romana Kokoschka (née Loidl), Oskar Kokoschka was born in Pöchlarn. His older brother died in infancy. His sister, Berta was born in 1889; and a brother, Bohuslav, in 1892. Oskar had a strong belief in omens, spurred by a story of a fire breaking out in Pöchlarn shortly after his mother gave birth to him. The family's life was not easy, largely due to a lack of financial stability of his father. They constantly moved into smaller flats, farther and farther from the thriving center of the town. Concluding that his father was inadequate, Kokoschka drew closer to his mother; and seeing himself as the head of the household, he continued to support his family when he gained financial independence. Kokoschka entered a Realschule,[when?] a type of secondary school, where emphasis was placed on the study of modern subjects such as the sciences and language. Kokoschka was not interested in such subjects, as he only excelled in art, and spent most of his time reading classic literature during his lessons.[citation needed]

One of Kokoschka's teachers suggested he pursue a career in the fine arts. Against his father's will, Kokoschka applied to the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, now the University of Applied Arts Vienna. He was one of three applicants accepted of 153.[citation needed] The Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule was a progressive school of applied arts that focused mainly on architecture, furniture, crafts and modern design. Unlike the more prestigious and traditional Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the Kunstgewerbeschule was dominated by instructors of the Vienna Secession. Kokoschka studied there from 1904 to 1909, and was influenced by his teacher Carl Otto Czeschka in developing an original style.

Among Kokoschka's early works were gesture drawings of children, which portrayed them as awkward and corpse-like. Kokoschka had no formal training in painting and so approached the medium without regard to the "traditional" or "correct" way to paint. The teachers at the Kunstgewerbeschule helped Kokoschka gain opportunities through the Wiener Werkstätte or Viennese Workshops. Kokoschka's first commissions were postcards and drawings for children. Later, Kokoschka said that this exercise provided "the basis of [his] artistic training".[1] His early career was marked by portraits of Viennese celebrities, painted in a nervously animated style.

The house in which Oskar Kokoschka was born in Pöchlarn (August 2006)

Kokoschka had a passionate, often stormy affair with Alma Mahler. It began in 1912, shortly after the death of her four-year-old daughter Maria Mahler and her affair with Walter Gropius, later a celebrated architect in Berlin. But after several years together, Alma rejected him, explaining that she was afraid of being too overcome with passion. He continued to love her his entire life, and one of his most acclaimed works, The Bride of the Wind (The Tempest; 1913), is expressive of their relationship.[2] The poet Georg Trakl visited the studio while Kokoschka was painting this masterpiece. Kokoschka's poem Allos Makar was inspired by this relationship.[citation needed]

He volunteered for service as a cavalryman in the Austrian army in World War I, and in 1915 was seriously wounded. At the hospital, the doctors decided that he was mentally unstable. Nevertheless, he continued to develop his career as an artist, traveling across Europe and painting the landscape.[citation needed]

Oskar Kokoschka in 1963, by Erling Mandelmann

He commissioned a life-sized female doll in 1918. Although intended to simulate Alma and receive his affection, the 'Alma doll' did not satisfy Kokoschka and he destroyed it during a party.[3]

Deemed a degenerate by the Nazis, Kokoschka fled Austria in 1934 for Prague. In Prague his name was adopted by a group of other expatriate artists, the Oskar-Kokoschka-Bund (OKB), though Kokoschka declined participation with their group.[4] In 1938, when the Czechs began to mobilize for the expected invasion of the Wehrmacht, he fled to the United Kingdom and remained there during the war. With the help of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (later the Czech Refugee Trust Fund), all members of the OKB were able to escape through Poland and Sweden.

During World War II, Kokoschka painted anti-Fascist works such as the allegory What We Are Fighting For (1943).[2] During several summer months, he and his young wife, Oldriska “Olda” Palkovská Kokoschka (1915–2009), lived in Ullapool, a village in Wester Ross, Scotland. There he drew with coloured pencil (a technique he developed in Scotland), and painted many local landscape views in watercolour.[citation needed] While in Ullapool, Kokoschka painted a portrait of his friend, the wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Uncle of Maria Altmann. The painting hangs at the Kunsthaus Museum in Zurich.[5]

Kokoschka became a British citizen in 1946 and would only regain Austrian citizenship in 1978. He traveled briefly to the United States in 1947 before settling in Switzerland, where he lived the rest of his life. He died in Montreux on 22 February 1980.[citation needed]

Kokoschka had much in common with his contemporary Max Beckmann. Both maintained their independence from German Expressionism, yet are now regarded as textbook examples of the style. Nonetheless, their individualism set both apart from the main movements of twentieth-century modernism. Both wrote eloquently of the need to develop the art of "seeing" (Kokoschka emphasized depth perception while Beckmann was concerned with mystical insight into the invisible realm), and both were masters of innovative oil-painting techniques anchored in earlier traditions.[citation needed]


Portrait of Lotte Franzos 1909, (oil on canvas, 114.9 cm × 79.4 cm), The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
Postage stamp of Konrad Adenauer after a painting by Oskar Kokoschka
Nude with Back Turned, ink, gouache and chalk drawing, c. 1907
  • 1909: Lotte Franzos
  • 1909: Martha Hirsch I
  • 1909: Hans and Erika Tietze
  • 1909: St. Veronica with the Sudarium
  • 1909: Les Dents du Midi
  • 1909: Children Playing
  • 1910: Still Life with Lamb and Hyacinth
  • 1910: Rudolf Blümner
  • 1911: Lady in Red
  • 1911: Hermann Schwarzwald I
  • 1911: Egon Wellesz
  • 1911: Crucifixion
  • 1912: Two Nudes
  • 1913: Landscape in the Dolomites (with Cima Tre Croci)
  • 1913: The Tempest
  • 1913: Carl Moll
  • 1913: Still Life with Putto and Rabbit
  • 1914: The Bride of the Wind
  • 1914: Portrait of Franz Hauser
  • 1915: Knight Errant
  • 1917: Portrait of the Artist's Mother
  • 1917: Lovers with Cat
  • 1917: Stockholm Harbour
  • 1920: The Power of Music
  • 1919: Dresden, Neustadt I
  • 1921: Dresden, Neustadt II
  • 1921: Two Girls
  • 1922: Self-Portrait at the Easel
  • 1923: Self-Portrait with Crossed Arms
  • 1924: Venice, Boats on the Dogana
  • 1925: Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal I
  • 1925: Toledo
  • 1926: Mandrill
  • 1926: Deer
  • 1926: London Large Thames View I
  • 1929: Arab Women and Child
  • 1929: Pyramids at Gizeh
  • 1932: Girl with Flowers
  • 1934: Prague, View from the Villa Kramář
  • 1937: Olda Palkovská
  • 1938: Prague – Nostalgia
  • 1940: The Crab
  • 1941: Anschluss – Alice in Wonderland
  • 1941: The Red Egg
  • 1948: Self-Portrait (Fiesole)
  • 1962: Storm Tide in Hamburg
  • 1966: The Rejected Lover
  • 1971: Time, Gentlemen, Please


Kokoschka's literary works are as peculiar and interesting as his art. His memoir, A Sea Ringed with Visions, details his theories of both corporeal and visceral vision and how they shape consciousness, art, and realities.[6] His short play Murderer, the Hope of Women (1909, set ten years later by Paul Hindemith as Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen) is often called the first Expressionist drama. His Orpheus und Eurydike (1918) became an opera by Ernst Krenek, who was first approached for incidental music.


  • 1908: Die traumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Youths) Vienna: Wiener Werkstätte (Originally published in an edition of 500 by the Wiener Werkstätte. Unsold copies numbered 1–275, were reissued in 1917 by Kurt Wolff Verlag.)
  • 1909: Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, the Hope of Women) (Play)
  • 1913: Der gefesselte Columbus (Columbus Bound). [Berlin]: Fritz Gurlitt, [1913] (known as Der weisse Tiertoter (The White Animal Slayer).
  • 1919: Orpheus and Eurydike, in: Vier Dramen: Orpheus und Eurydike; Der brennende Dornbusch; Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen; [and] Hiob. Berlin
  • 1962: A Sea Ringed with Visions. London: Thames & Hudson ISBN 978-0-500-01014-3 (Autobiography)
  • 1974: My Life; translated (from "Mein Leben") by David Britt. London: Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-01087-0

First productions of plays[edit]

  • 1907: Sphinx und Strohmann. Komödie für Automaten. 29 March 1909 at Cabaret Fledermaus, Vienna
  • 1909: Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen
  • 1911: Der brennende Dornbusch
  • 1913: Sphinx und Strohmann, Ein Curiosum. 14 April 1917 in the Dada-Galerie, Zürich
  • 1917: Hiob (an enlarged version of Sphinx und Strohmann, 1907)
  • 1919: Orpheus und Eurydike
    • 1923: new version as opera libretto; music by Ernst Krenek. 27 November 1926 at the Staatstheater, Kassel
  • 1936–38/1972: Comenius

Articles, essays and writings[edit]

  • 1960: "Lettre de Voyage", Oskar Kokoschka, X magazine, Vol. I, No. II (March 1960)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whitford, Frank (1986). Oskar Kokoschka: A Life. Library of Congress Cataloging. ISBN 0-689-11794-9. 
  2. ^ a b Lachnit, Edwin (2003). "Kokoschka, Oskar". Grove Art Online.
  3. ^ Alma. History (alma-mahler.com). Retrieved 20 January 2018
  4. ^ K. Holz, Modern German Art for Thirties Paris, Prague, and London: Resistance and Acquiescence in a Democratic Public Sphere
  5. ^ "London's National Gallery hosts Klimt portrait seized by Nazis". 
  6. ^ Timpano, Nathan. "The dialectics of vision: Oskar Kokoschka and the historiography of expressionistic sight" (PDF). Art Historiography. 

Further sources


  • Alfred Weidinger: Oskar Kokoschka. Dreaming Boy and Enfant Terrible. Early Graphic Works, 1902–1909. Ed. Albertina, Vienna 1996.
  • Alfred Weidinger: Kokoschka and Alma Mahler: Testimony to a Passionate Relationship. Prestel, New York 1996, ISBN 3-7913-1722-9

Further reading[edit]

  • Oskar Kokoschka – La mia vita, Carmine Benincasa – Ed. Marsilio, Venezia 1981
  • Oskar Kokoschka, "Lettre de Voyage", X magazine, Vol. I, No. II (March 1960)
  • Berland, Rosa JH. "Expressionist Death Images and the Feminine Other: Oskar Kokoschka’s Mörder Hoffnung der Frauen (1907) and Hugo Von Hofmannsthal’s Elektra (1903). Death Representations in Literature. Cambridge Scholars, 2015.
  • Berland, Rosa JH. "The radical work of Oskar Kokoschka and the alternative venues of Die Kunstschauen of 1908–1909, Vienna, Austria." Exhibiting Outside the Academy, Salon and Biennial, 1775–1999. Ashgate Press, 2015.
  • Berland, Rosa JH (Winter–Spring 2008). "The Exploration of Dreams: Kokoschka's Die träumenden Knaben" and Freud". Source. 27 (2/3 Special issue on art and psychoanalysis): 25–31. 
  • Berland, Rosa JH. "The Early Portraits of Oskar Kokoschka: A Narrative of Inner Life". Image and Narrative. Retrieved 2 February 2015. 
  • Hilde Berger: Ob es Hass ist solche Liebe? Oskar Kokoschka und Alma Mahler, Böhlau Verlag, Wien 1999 ISBN 3-205-99103-6, 2nd edition 2008 ISBN 978-3-205-78078-6
  • Oliver Hilmes: Witwe im Wahn  –  Das Leben der Alma Mahler-Werfel, Siedler Vlg., München 2004 ISBN 978-3-88680-797-0.
  • Wolfgang Maier-Preusker: Buch- und Mappenwerke mit Grafik des Deutschen Expressionismus, Ausst.Kat. für Hansestadt Wismar, Wien 2006 ISBN 3-900208-37-9
  • Tilo Richter (ed.): Horst Tappe: Kokoschka, m. Fotografien v. Horst Tappe, Zitaten (d/e/f) u. Grafiken v. Oskar Kokoschka, Vorwort v. Christoph Vitali, Christoph Merian Verlag, Basel 2005 ISBN 3-85616-235-6
  • Heinz Spielmann: Oskar Kokoschka  –  Leben und Werk, Dumont Verlag. Köln 2003 ISBN 978-3-8321-7320-3.
  • Alfred Weidinger: Kokoschkas King Lear. Albertina, Wien 1995 ISBN 3-900656-29-0
  • Alfred Weidinger: Kokoschka und Alma Mahler  –  Dokumente einer leidenschaftlichen Begegnung, Reihe 'Pegasus Bibliothek', Prestel Vlg., München/New York 1996 ISBN 3-7913-1711-3. * Widerstand statt Anpassung: Deutsche Kunst im Widerstand gegen den Faschismus 1933–1945, Elefanten Press Verlag GmbH, Berlin 1980
  • Alfred Weidinger, Alice Strobl: Oskar Kokoschka. Die Zeichnungen und Aquarelle 1897–1916. Werkkatalog, 1. Band. Hg. Albertina. Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 2008 ISBN 978-3-85349-290-1
  • Alfred Weidinger: Oskar Kokoschka. Träumender Knabe – Enfant terrible, 1906–1922. Hg. Agnes Husslein-Arco, Alfred Weidinger. Belvedere, Wien 2008 ISBN 978-3-901508-37-0
  • Norbert Werner (Hg.): Kokoschka  –  Leben und Werk in Daten und Bildern, Insel Vlg., Frankfurt/M. 1991 ISBN 3-458-32609-X
  • Hans M. Wingler, Friedrich Welz: Oskar Kokoschka – Das druckgraphische Werk , Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 1975 ISBN 3-85349-037-9
  • Johann Winkler, Katharina Erling: Oskar Kokoschka  –  Die Gemälde 1906–1929, Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 1995

External links[edit]