OSKAR KOKOSCHKA: EXILE AND NEW HOME, 1934-80

11 April 2008 - 13 July 2008
Oskar Kokoschka
In the Garden II, 1934

Oil on canvas

A reassessment of Oscar Kokoschka’s work from 1934 until the artist’s death in 1980 had been long overdue. This retrospective begins with paintings of people and views of Prague which Kokoschka painted when he was around fifty. Next come examples of the political allegories he painted after fleeing to London in 1938, followed by many of the flamboyantly colourful paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints he produced after he settled in Switzerland in 1953, and on his extensive travels. Exhibited publicly for the first time are precious crayon drawings from the sketchbooks which Kokoschka, starting in 1941, took with him wherever he went. The exhibition concludes its tribute to a world-class Austrian artist with his final works, executed when he was in his eighties, which deal movingly with themes of life and death.

 

On display are 40 paintings and around 160 watercolours, drawings and prints. More than half of the works are drawn from the Albertina’s holdings, whose collection of 1,200 works by Kokoschka is one of the world’s largest.
 

Sponsors:

Picture gallery

 

Oskar Kokoschka

In the Garden II, 1934 
Oskar Kokoschka

London, Tower Bridge II, 1963 
Oskar Kokoschka

Prague, Charles Bridge 1934 
Oskar Kokoschka

Self Portrait, 1964 
 
Oskar Kokoschka

Storm Tide in Hamburg, 1962 
Oskar Kokoschka

Nymph, 1936 
Oskar Kokoschka

Help the Basque Children!, 1937 
Oskar Kokoschka

The Red Egg, 1940-1941 
 
Oskar Kokoschka

Lobster on a Plate, 1945 
Oskar Kokoschka

Pumpkin, 1945 
Oskar Kokoschka

Florence: View from the Mannelli Tower, 1948 
Oskar Kokoschka

"Waking Slave” by Michelangelo; Accademia, Florence, 1954 
 
Oskar Kokoschka

Time, Gentlemen please, 1970/1972 
Oskar Kokoschka

Ecce Homines, Cardboard for the mosaic of the same name in the St Nikolai Church in Hamburg, 1972 
Oskar Kokoschka

Tiger, 1969 
 
In the 1930s, at around the age of fifty, the self-assured and cosmopolitan Oskar Kokoschka developed a style uniquely his own, untouched by contemporary trends. He is now boldly confident in his handling of paint and the treatment of his subjects, and uses colour in a sophisticated manner to create distinct moods.
 
Kokoschka’s early works had been inspired by his personal experiences, but after he sought refuge in Prague in 1934, his work was increasingly influenced by the world around him. The exhibition traces his restless life, which resembled an odyssey across a war-ravaged continent. In Nazi Germany, paintings by Kokoschka, like those of “avant-gardists”, Dadaists and Expressionists, were included in nearly every exhibition of “degenerate” art staged by the regime. As a refugee in England, from 1938 on he painted powerful works about the situation in Europe. His response to the terrible events of the day took the form of bitter allegory.
 
By then his political views had become an integral part of his life and art. And they would continue to be so, as incisive works like The Frogs (1968) attest. Among the highlights of the exhibition are Kokoschka’s "portraits" of Prague, London, Florence, Rome, Salzburg, Berlin and Freiburg, in which he captures the cities’ specific temperament, atmosphere and character. The paintings are accompanied by the diary-like sketchbooks which he took with him wherever he went.
 
Another of Kokoschka’s key themes, the intimate, even fateful bonds between people, is expressed in figural groups and allegories such as Cupid and Psyche (1950-55). In The Rejected Lover (1966), Kokoschka looks back with humour at his turbulent relationship with Alma Mahler.
 
Assertively defining himself as an heir to the European legacy, Kokoschka explored themes from world literature (The Odyssey, 1964-66) in his paintings, drawings, graphic works and portfolios. His work for the theatre included stage designs for plays by Ferdinand Raimund (1959-60). Music played an important role in his life. In Morning and Evening (1966-67), it is transformed into luminous filigrees of impastoed colour, and it reverberates in the portrait drawings of Jenny Abel playing the violin (1973).
 
Life and death are the subjects of Kokoschka’s last works, painted when he was in his eighties. Paintings such as Time, Gentlemen Please (1971-72) und Ecce Homines (1972) are a moving finale for the long career of a world-class Austrian artist.
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