KOKOSCHKA Oskar
Austrian painter; born in 1886 in Pöchlarn of Austrian and Czech parents, died in 1980. He became a Czech citizen in 1937 and a British citizen in 1947. Kokoschka studied in Vienna, beginning in 1904. Vienna at that time was the capital of in immense, dying empire and the centre of great intellectual activity. The artistic movement most in evidence was the Jugendstil, marked by the affected, decorative art of Klimt. After being part of that movement, which inspired his book The Boy Dreamers, Kokoschka soon showed his independence. His painting, as well as the expressionist dramas he wrote, astonished and deeply shocked the public. Between 1908 and 1914, first in Vienna, then in Switzerland, and much later in Berlin, he painted some portraits, particularly of writers and actors, which are psychological documents of haunting accuracy. The colours am very gloomy -- blacks and browns, sometimes shot with blue, sometimes touched with highlights of red. Nervous and feverish, the drawing does not trace in a normally reassuring fashion the external aspect of his sitters so much as the strange lines of their inner personality.
Kokoschka seems to have a gift of second sight that has allowed him to portray physical transformations which later actually show themselves in the model. He is haunted by his subjects. The problems of form have only a secondary importance for him. The interest of his paintings resides essentially in their visionary character. The psychological preoccupations which one notices in his early pictures transform themselves little by little into a more general passion for all the human realities. Kokoschka's conception is' dramatic, and his work carries an echo of that tradition of dynamic and visionary baroque painting which was still strong in Austria before 1914. His major work before the 1914-1918 war was The Vortex ( 1914), in which two lovers transposed as myth, become all the forces of Nature unleashed.
Seriously wounded in 1915, Kokoschka had to wait for years before he was completely recovered. He settled in Dresden and, in 1919, became a teacher at the Academy. He was then influenced by the Brücke, particularly in his use of colour. After his gloomy portraits and the cold blue night of The Vortex, his Dresden paintings astonish by their frank colouring, even though colour is not always perfectly integrated into the structure. It was only much later that he solved this problem by using a dramatic Impressionism of feverish brush strokes. In 1924 Kokoschka suddenly decided to leave Austria, and for seven years he travelled through Europe, North Africa and Asia Minor. With the same passion he had shown in his portraits of men he now painted sites, mountains and, above all, cities. He generally chose a very elevated or distant viewpoint from which the principal features of his subject could be seen in a broad, rhythmical pattern. In this manner he portrayed Paris, Aigues-Mortes, Lyons, Marseilles, Jerusalem, Toledo, London, Amsterdam and Prague. In the visionary synthesis of the picture these cities appear to be living beings, with their legends, their stories and their secrets. In 1951 Kokoschka again settled in Vienna, but in 1954, after Dollfuss came to power, he left for Prague, and from there, in 1935, went to London. During these years, and also during the war, the ideological struggle gained mastery over his painting, and he composed a number of large allegorical and historical pictures ( Loreley, Anschluss). After the war, painting gained the upper hand in his landscapes, streaming with colour, of the Valais and of Italy. In 1950, in London, in the decoration of an immense ceiling, Kokoschka used the myth of Prometheus in presenting a grandiose parable of the destiny of our civilization. Unlike many other Expressionists, however, he was essentially optimistic in outlook.
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