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Oskar Kokoschka

 (1886 - 1980)
Oskar (Oscar) Kokoschka was active/lived in Austria, Germany, Switzerland.  Oskar Kokoschka is known for expressionist landscape, genre and portrait painting, teaching.

Oskar Kokoschka

    ko-KOSH-kuh    click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following text was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California:

Oscar Kokoschka, the son of a fairly poor Czech goldsmith, was born in 1886 in Pochlam, Austria and raised in Vienna, the great hothouse of modernism in economic, social and ethnic areas.  By the time he was twenty-two he was labeled a "public terror".  He was the "enfant terrible" of Viennese Expressionism as early as 1907.  He first caused an uproar at an 1908 exhibition in Vienna; he became so controversial that he fled to Berlin in 1909. His contact with German expressionists there helped deepen his art.   

"Kokoschka had an extraordinary life which is mirrored in his art.  He changed nationalities twice; he lived in practically half the capital cities of Europe and he survived two World Wars."(1)  His early drawings are related to the nervous mannered work of Klimt and Schiele.  However, Kokoschka quickly came into his own, abandoning style in order to explore the inner feelings of his sitters.  He painted only people who interested him and never allowed his sitters to pose.  Instead, he would have them move around and would talk to them so that he could get a sense of their feelings and personalities.   

Kokoschka had a stormy and painful affair with Alma Mahler (widow of the composer) which led to a brilliant series of poignant and often self-mocking paintings and drawings.  During the course of the three-year affair, she aborted Kokoschka's child, the only one he would ever father, and finally she jilted him for the architect Walter Gropius.  In 1915, although he didn't even know how to ride a horse, he enlisted in an elite cavalry unit of the Austro-Hungarian army.  Eventually, having been wounded in a lung and in the head, and suffering from shell shock, he retired to Dresden to convalesce. Not surprisingly, his art took an unexpected turn:  he  became a master of land- and cityscapes.   

At the age of sixty-two, Kokoschka was still as self-assured as ever. "Though I am no great painter", he said, "I prefer my own pictures to any other.  Art is dying; I am its oxygen.  When Kokoshka is finished, true art will be finished."  Had Kokoschka stopped painting at the beginning of World War I, his place in art history would have already been secure.  But he continued well into his eighties, producing an oeuvre of considerable vigor and strength.   

He was a skeptic but never a pessimist; he left behind a body of work that is ultimately life-affirming and optimistic. Just before World War II he fled to London.

Throughout these decades Kokoschka remained the rebellious outsider.  In and out of fashion, now poor, now prosperous, he pursued  the role of an embattled humanist, crusading against the conformity of modern times.  Kokoschka's last years were spent in Switzerland and Austria, where he taught, painted and worked on his memoirs.  In 1953, he opened a summer art school called the School of Vision in a castle overlooking Salzburg.  Young artists flocked there and impassioned and tireless, he worked with two hundred students every day.  Kokoschka continued to pour his thought and vision into tempestuous, vibrant paintings which he signed wih the brusque "O.K." that became famous throughout the art world.   

He died in Montreux, Switzerland in February 1980 at the age of ninety-three.   

1 Quote from Calvocoressi in article by Ruth Bass in Art News, February 1987   
Time Magazine, March 14, 1969, August 29, 1955 and July 12, 1948   
Mark Stevens in Newsweek, March 3, 1980   
Master Paintings from the Phillips Collection

Biography from Auctionata
Kokoschka was born in Pöchlarn but grew up in Vienna.  Thanks to the efforts of Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960), Kokoschka was allowed to study at the Vienna arts school where he stayed from 1905 until 1909.  He moved to Berlin in 1910 where he illustrated the expressionist magazine 'Der Sturm' and had a huge exhibition in Paul Cassirer's gallery.

Back in Vienna, he met Alma Mahler, yet when their tumultuous affair ended, Kokoschka voluntarily joined the military service.  He got injured and spent the rest of the war as a war painter.  He was named professor in Dresden in 1919 and stayed there until 1924.

With the beginning of the Nazi regime, Kokoschka had to flee to Prague after he was named 'The most degenerated amongst the degenerated' and 'Hitler's artistic enemy No. 1'.  The 'Oskar Kokoschka Bund' was founded in Prague with the aim of contradicting the 'artistic' machinations of the National Socialists and to support Kokoschka. In 1938, Kokoschka fled to England and became a British citizen in 1946 (he only re-accepted the Austrian citizenship in 1975).  He founded the 'Schule des Sehens', an international fine arts summer academy in Salzburg and moved to Switzerland in 1953.  Kokoschka participated in the documenta I, II and III and received many honors and awards.  Regular exhibitions are held in his birthplace in Pöchlarn.

Today, paintings by Kokoschka are represented in the most important museums for modern art in Austria and Germany, but also in the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Gallery in Prague as well as in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Biography from Richard Rhoda Fine Art
Oskar Kokoschka (1886, Pochlam, Austria - 1980, Montreux, Switzerland) was the son of a Prague goldsmith. Kokoschka studied at the Viennese applied arts school, Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule, from 1904 to 1909 under Anton von Kenner, Carl Czeschka and Bertold Löffler. From 1907 he created designs for the artist's association Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese workshops), including postcards and fans. That same year he created a series of illustrated poems entitled The Dream Boys and wrote two plays. His friend, Adolf Loos helped him get numerous commissions for portraits, which instantly won the young and rebellious artist fame and recognition.

In 1908 he made his very successful exhibition debut at the art fair Wiener Kunstschau. While staying in Berlin in 1910, the artist worked for the Expressionist art journal Der Sturm and secured a contract with gallery owner Paul Cassirer.  From 1912 to 1913 he taught as an assistant professor at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule (University of Applied Arts, Vienna) and in 1919,  received a professorship at the Dresden Academy, where he taught until 1924.

Throughout the following years he undertook extensive travels, which resulted in large-scale views and landscapes. In 1934 the artist moved to Prague, where he taught at the local academy until 1938. In 1937 more than 400 of Kokoschka's paintings were seized and some of them displayed at a Vienna exhibition of "degenerate" art.

In 1938 the artist emigrated to London with Olda Palkovska and was granted British citizenship in 1947. After extensive travels to the US and other countries, Kokoschka purchased a house in Villeneuve, Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva, which became his primary residence. Kokoschka then founded an art school in Salzburg with gallery owner Friedrich Welz called Schule des Sehens (School of Vision) of which he remained artistic director until 1962. In the mid-70s, Kokoschka developed a serious eye condition which began to impair his sight.

The artistic vision Kokoschka had outlined as a young, rebellious artist and chief exponent of the Viennese Expressionist Avant-Garde was to determine his entire œuvre.  His quest became to detect, with a discerning eye, the subtle truth behind the visible characteristics of people, landscapes and the world as a whole. Kokoschka's infinite capacity for differentiated perception is what makes looking at each of his works such an exceptional experience.

Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna
The Leopold Museum, Vienna

Sources: Kunsthandel Giese und Schweiger,
Kunsthandel Freller ?
Benezit Art Reference

Biography from Galerie St. Etienne
Oskar Kokoschka is, together with Richard Gerstl, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, one of the most important artists of turn-of-the-century Vienna.  Of these artists, Kokoschka was the only one to acquire a significant international reputation during his lifetime.  He spent much of his early career in Germany, and was widely accepted as a "German" Expressionist.  More painterly in his approach than Schiele, Kokoschka was a master at assimilating influences: from the Art Nouveau of Klimt to the bold impasto of his German colleagues.

As the longest-lived of the Austrian Expressionists, Kokoschka also had the most protracted influence on the development of modern art, which can be seen both in the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and the Neo-Expressionism of the '80s. 

Otto Kallir's Neue Galerie in Vienna (predecessor to the Galerie St. Etienne) represented Kokoschka in the years between the two world wars.  Many of the major Kokoschka paintings which Kallir brought with him to New York when he immigrated were pivotal in establishing the artist in the United States.  The Galerie St. Etienne mounted one of Kokoschka's first American exhibitions in 1940, and was instrumental in placing many of his works in museum collections here.

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About  Oskar Kokoschka

Born:  1886 - Pochlam, Austria
Died:   1980 - Montreux, Switzerland
Known for:  expressionist landscape, genre and portrait painting, teaching