In the Garden, 1934
© Fondation Oskar Kokoschka / VBK, Vienna 2009 / Albertina, Vienna - On permanent loan from the Batliner Collection
A reassessment of Oscar Kokoschkas work from 1934 until the artists 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
Albertinas holdings, whose collection of 1,200 works by Kokoschka is one of the worlds largest.
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.
Kokoschkas 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 Kokoschkas "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 Kokoschkas 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
Life and death are the subjects of Kokoschkas 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.