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Oscar Kokoschka

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Oscar Kokoschka

"Oskar Kokoshka" redirects here. For the Hey Arnold! character, see List of Hey Arnold! characters.
Oskar Kokoschka
Gustav Mahler, 1914
Birth name Oskar Kokoschka
Born 1 March 1886
Pöchlarn, Austria-Hungary
Died 22 February 1980(1980-02-22) (aged 93)
Montreux, Switzerland
Nationality Austrian
Field Painting, poet, playwright
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.


He was born in Pöchlarn, second child to Gustav Josef Kokoschka and Maria Romana Kokoschka. His older brother died in infancy in 1887; he had a sister, Berta (born in 1889) and a brother, Bohuslav (born 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. Kokoschka's life was not easy mainly due to a lack of financial help from 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; he felt that he was the head of the household and continued to support his family when he gained wealth. Kokoschka entered secondary school at Realschule, where emphasis was placed on the study of modern subjects such as science and language. Kokoschka was not interested in his subjects, as he found he only excelled in art, and spent most of his time reading classic literature during his lessons. This education of classic literature is said to have influenced his artwork.

One of Kokoschka's professors suggested he pursue a career in fine art. Against his father's will, Kokoschka applied to Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna, where he was one of three accepted out of 153 applicants. Kunstgewerbeschule was an extremely progressive school that focused mainly on architecture, furniture, crafts and modern design. Unlike the more prestigious and traditional Academy of Fine Art in Vienna, Kunstgewerbeschule was dominated by instructors of the Vienna Secession. Kokoschka studied there from 1904 to 1909, and was influenced by his professor 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 Kunstgewerbeschule helped Kokoschka gain opportunities through the Wiener Werkstätte or Viennese Workshops. Kokoschka's first commissions were postcards and drawings for children. Kokoschka said that it gave him "the basis of [his] artistic training".[1] His early career was marked by portraits of Viennese celebrities, painted in a nervously animated style.

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. 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 greatest works, The Bride of the Wind (The Tempest), is a tribute to her. The poet Georg Trakl visited the studio while Kokoschka was painting this masterpiece. Kokoschka's poem Allos Markar[2] was inspired by this relationship.

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.

He commissioned a life-sized female doll in 1918.[3] Although intended to simulate Alma and receive his affection, the gynoid-Alma 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 he declined to otherwise participate.[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, Oskar Kokoschka and his wife lived in Ullapool, a village along the Wester Ross of Scotland for several summer months. There he drew with colored pencil (a technique he developed in Scotland), and painted many local landscape views in watercolour.[5]

Kokoschka became a British citizen in 1946 and only in 1978 would regain Austrian citizenship. He traveled briefly to the United States in 1947 before settling in Switzerland, where he lived the rest of his life. Kokoschka's last years were somewhat embittered, as he found himself marginalized as a curious footnote to art history. He died in Montreux on 22 February 1980.

Kokoschka had much in common with his contemporary Max Beckmann. Both maintained their independence from German Expressionism, yet they are now regarded as its supreme masters, who delved deeply into the art of past masters to develop unique individual styles. Their individualism left them both orphaned 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.


  • 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: 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: "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
  • 1925: Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal I
  • 1924: Venice, Boats on the Dogana
  • 1925: Toledo
  • 1926: Mandrill
  • 1926: Deer
  • 1929: Arab Women and Child
  • 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, is as wildly psychedelic as anything written by others under the influence of actual hallucinogens. 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 Gefesslte 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

  • 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 & Writings

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


  • The Children's television show Hey Arnold! features a character named Oskar Kokoschka. He is portrayed as a deadbeat in Arnold's family's boarding house.
  • A UK Midlands based 1980's pop group called themselves 'Oskar Kokoschka'. In 1986 they released a 12 inch EP featuring the songs 'Waiting til it all Blows Over' and 'Letting the water out'.[6]


Further sources
  • Adamson, Donald "Oskar Kokoschka at Polperro", in: The Cornish Banner, November 2009, pp. 19–33
  • Adamson, Donald "Researching Kokoschka", in: The Cornish Banner, November 2010, pp. 22–24
  • K. Holz, Modern German Art for Thirties Paris, Prague, and London: Resistance and Acquiescence in a Democratic Public Sphere
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica
  • Holz, K. (2004) Modern German Art for Thirties Paris, Prague, and London: resistance and acquiescence in a democratic public sphere. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
  • Kokoschka, Oskar (1962) A Sea Ringed with Visions. London: Thames & Hudson ISBN 978-0-500-01014-3 (Autobiography)
  • Weidinger, Alfred (1996) Kokoschka and Alma Mahler. Munich: Prestel-Verlag ISBN 3-7913-1722-9


  • 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

  • Oskar Kokoschka - La mia vita, Carmine Benincasa – Ed. Marsilio, Venezia 1981
  • Oskar Kokoschka, "Lettre de Voyage", X magazine, Vol. I, No. II (March 1960)
  • 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
  • Hilde Berger: Ob es Hass ist solche Liebe? Oskar Kokoschka und Alma Mahler, Böhlau Verlag, Wien 1999 ISBN 3-205-99103-6
  • 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 Vlg. 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
  • 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
  • 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

External links

  • Find a Grave
  • Vevey, with illustrations of Kokoschka works, text in French
  • Kokoschka: Knight Errant of 20th Century Painting, a memorial lecture by Carol Hoorn Fraser
  • Gallery of Kokoschka's early works
  • Rotterdam, with images of the works, and descriptions in English.

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