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Biography of Austrian Artist Oskar Kokoschka

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Kokoschka was born in P^chlarn, a Danube town, on March 1, 1886. He

studied at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts from 1905 to 1908. As

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an early exponent of the avant-garde expressionist movement, he began

to paint psychologically penetrating portraits of Viennese physicians,

architects, and artists. Among these works are Hans Tietze and Erica

Tietze-Conrat (1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York City), August Forel

(1910, Mannheim Art Gallery, Germany), and Self-Portrait (1913, Museum

of Modern Art). Kokoschka was wounded in World War I (1914-1918) and

diagnosed as psychologically unstable.

He taught art at the Dresden

Academy from 1919 to 1924. During this time he painted The Power of

Music (1919, Dresden Paintings Collection, Dresden). A succeeding

seven-year period of travel in Europe and the Middle East resulted in a

number of robust, brilliantly colored landscapes and figure pieces,

painted with great freedom and exuberance. Many of them are views of

harbors, mountains, and cities. Kokoschka, one of the artists

denounced by the Nazi government of Germany as degenerate, moved in

1938 to England, where he painted antiwar pictures during World War II

(1939-1945) and became a British subject in 1947.

After the war he

visited the United States and settled in Switzerland. He died in

Montreux on February 22, 1980. Best known as a painter, Kokoschka was

also a writer. His literary works include poetry and plays not

translated into English and a collection of short stories, A Sea Ringed

with Visions (1956; translated 1962). His father was a silversmith

from Prague who experienced financial difficulties when the market for

such handcrafted goods dried out with mass industrialization. Oskar^s

exposure to his father^s craftsmanship, however, was said to play a

large part in his art and enthusiasm for craftsmanship. In 1908, a

book called The Dreaming Youths was published, and it featured

illustrations by Kokoschka. They were done in a style that was indebted

to Gustav Klimt, whose Secession group was going strong at the time.

Kokoschka was teaching at the School of Arts and Crafts where he had

studied himself under Franz Cizek. Cizek was among the first to

recognize the young artist^s talents. In Vienna, Kokoschka wrote

dramas such as The Assassin, Murderer, and The Hope of Women; and they,

along with his art, were considered too radical for the aristocracy.

Despite support from architect Adolf Loos and good reaction from his

participation in the 1908 and 1909 exhibits at the Kunstschau, Vienna

was not kind to Kokoschka. In 1910, he moved to Berlin. In Berlin, he

got the help of Herwarth Walden, the founder and editor of the art

journal Der Sturm and a proponent of Expressionism. Until the outset of

World War I, Kokoschka painted portraits of German (and Austrian)

intelligentsia in a style he called “black painting,” as they, in his

words, “painted the soul^s dirtiness.” His portrait of poet Peter

Altenberg, made in 1909, has the figure almost blending into the

frame^s Expressionist background; and his portraits of Count Verona,

Joseph de Montesquiou-Ferendac and Walden himself are textbook examples

of the Expressionist, swirling, Van Gough-like images that evoked a

sense of decadence. Between 1912 and 1914, Kokoschka had a

relationship with Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler. She

was a woman of great influence who had inspired no less than poet

Rainer Maria Rilke, and was involved also with Bauhaus founder Walter

Gropius. After World War I broke out, Kokoschka volunteered for the

Imperial and Royal 15th Dragoons, and in 1915 he was sent to the front,

where he was seriously injured. He was hospitalized several times in

both Vienna and Stockholm and was discharged from military service in

1916. In 1919, he was appointed to a professorship at the Dresden

Academy, and when he left the Academy in 1924 he traveled for a decade

through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. He then stayed a

while in the artistic quarter of Paris, but he never felt at home in

that environment. Eventually, he returned to Vienna, where he completed

Vienna, View From the Wilhelminberg for the Vienna Municipal Council.

In 1934, Kokoschka moved to Prague after being alarmed by political

developments in Germany and Austria. There he met Olda Pavlovska, who

would later become his wife, and also Thomas Masaryk, the first

president of the Czech Republic. In Prague, he voiced his displeasure

with the Nazi regime in Germany; and as a result, his work was

considered “degenerate art” by the Nazis. When Germany annexed Austria

in 1938 and occupied Czechoslovakia that same year, Kokoschka fled to

England with Olda. Kokoschka sold and donated many of his works on

behalf of humanitarian causes as well as launching a poster campaign in

1945. It featured a lithographed poster that read, “In memory of the

children of Europe who have to die of cold and hunger this Christmas.”

Every summer from 1953 to 1963, he taught at the Salzburg School of

Seeing, where he presented his ideas of expression via the senses. He

continued his humanitarian work as well as exhibiting his work in

Basel, New York and Venice. Kokoschka and Olda settled finally in

Switzerland, where he lived until his death in 1980. Most authors will

tell prospective writers to ^write what you know.^ My impression of

Kokoschka is that he did just that. He was tormented for most of his

life. He wrote his father in 1922 saying, ^I believe, in all

seriousness, that I am now the best painter on earth.^ He wrote to the

people of Dresden not to have their ^war^ in front of the art gallery

and traveled more than any other artist known at the time. I don^t find

his painting or his writings very settling and extremely lacking in

Schroder, Klaus A, et al (October, 1991), Oskar Kokoschka, International Book Import Service, Inc., Austria/NY.

Weidinger, Alfred, et al. (September, 1996), Kokoschka and Alma Mahler: Testimony to a

Passionate Relationship, International Book Import Service, Austria/NY.

Winkler, Johann (August, 1997), Oskar Kokoschka, International Book Import Service, Austria/NY

Cite this Biography of Austrian Artist Oskar Kokoschka

Biography of Austrian Artist Oskar Kokoschka. (2018, Oct 08). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/oskar-kokoschka-essay/

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