Blesok no. 25, March-April, 2002
Gallery Reviews


Oskar Kokoschka, short biography

Jens Peter


Oskar Kokoschka (1886 – 1980)

Oskar Kokoschka was born at Pöchlarn an der Donau, Lower Austria, on 1 March 1886. His mother came from a family of foresters in Lower Austria. His father came from a celebrated line of goldsmiths in Prague, but when Oskar was born his father worked as a commercial traveler for a jewelry firm. Oskar was the second of four children.

A few months after he was born the family moved to Vienna, where he spend the early part of his life. In 1904 OK was awarded a state scholarship to attend the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of the Arts and Crafts). His intention was to become a art teacher. In 1908 he had his first exhibition or more true, he got the chance to show some of his work to the public, because The Klimt group came on visit to Vienna.

In 1909, he had his first exhibition at the “Internationale Kunstschau” and the same year he left the school. In 1910 he went to Berlin for the first time to work with Walden. In 1912 his name became know in the art world around Europe, and he was normally on every important exhibition on the continent.

In 1913 he married Alma Mahler who built a house for him where he could work and where they lived for a year. After Alma had an abortion in 1914 their life together ended their relationship.

On 1 August 1914, the First World War breaks out. Oscar enrolled in one of the most prestigious regiments in the Austro-Hungarian army, the 15th Imperial-Royal Dragoons. He was send to the Eastern Front, where he got wounded and was after that discharged from the army as unfit for active service.

In 1918 Gustav Klimt dies. Oscar wrote to his mother: “I cried for poor Klimt, the only Viennese artist who had any talent and character. Now I am his successor, as I once asked of him at the “Kunstschau”, and I do not yet feel ready to take charge of that flock of lost sheep.” Three years later he moved to Dresden, Germany as a professor at the academy.

At this time in Germany there were fights between different political parties. In March 1920, a Rubens painting was damaged in crossfire. Oscar addressed an open letter to the population of Dresden: “I request all those who intend to use firearms in order to promote their political beliefs, …, to be kind enough to hold their military exercises elsewhere than in front of the art gallery in the Zwinger; for instance, on the shooting-ranges on the heath, where human civilization is in no danger… It is certain that in the future the German people will find more happiness and meaning in looking at the paintings that have been saved than in the totality of contemporary German political ideas.”

Later the same year he wrote to his family: “Since leaving Vienna I have been in love about nineteen times, all serious, single-minded ladies with plenty of heart… Then I get love letters regularly, and they are like sunshine when the sun goes in; and so I can paint wonderful colors that glow”.

In 1922 he wrote to his father: “I believe, in all seriousness, that I am now the best painter on earth.” In 1923 he started the life of a traveling restless soul. I have not ever heard of another artist that traveled so much as Oscar. He painted as we to day use a camera, a critic once said. In the years that followed, he traveled around and painted and traveled and painted.

Later he moved to Paris and after he broke with his art-dealer he moved to Prague. During the Second World War, he was banned by the German system, but both under and after the war he again was represented at every large exhibition. It was also during this time he had his first exhibition in the U.S.A.

Often his exhibitions these years was with the works of artists like Klimt and Schiele. He was the founder of The Free German League of Culture, set up in London in 1939 just before the second world war started. Oscar died in a hospital in Montreux on 22 February 1980, 94 years old.




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