Whenever I think of Oskar Kokoschka I can't help but put him in a kind of holy trinity with those two other
Viennese gods of his youth, Egon Schiele and
Gustav Klimt. And when I do that I invariably place him as a kind of poor man's
But he was so much more than that, and his legacy of work has truly stood the test of time.
He was born March 1, 1886,
in the Austrian town of Pöchlarn but spent
most of his youth in Vienna. Around 1905 he entered
the Kunstgewerbeschule and studied under Klimt. From 1905-09, he
worked painting fans and postcards at the Wiener Werkstätte studios.
In 1908 the studio published his first
book of poetry. He also wrote plays in this period.
When he exhibited in the Vienna Kunstschau in 1908 and was fiercely criticized,
the Kunstgewerbeschule expelled him. His work though continued to be championed by
the architect Adolf Loos.
He had two solo shows in 1910,
at the Galerie Paul Cassirer in Berlin, and
the Museum Folkwang in Essen. That same year, he became part of the Berlin 'Sturm'
(The Storm) circle and contributed to
Herwarth Walden’s periodical.
Arond this time, Kokoschka had a turbulent love affair with Gustave Mahler's widow, Alma. The affair lasted two years.
Before World War I, he split his time between Berlin and Vienna and
concentrated on portraiture. When the war came, he volunteered
to serve on the eastern front, where he was seriously wounded.
The doctors decided that he was mentally unstable
as well as physically wounded. Whether he was mentally ill or not, he was still recuperating some two years later when he
he settled in Dresden. In 1919 he
accepted a professorship at the Dresden Akademie, and the year before
Paul Westheim’s comprehensive monograph on the artist was published. He was still only 32.
However, his best years as an artist were to come. Whilst traveling extensively
throughout the 1920s and 30s, he painted the landscapes he witnessed in the expressive way only he could. Thus, landscapes were
set in Europe (1924-30), North Africa, and the Middle East.
He returned to Vienna in 1931 but, the return was a short one because of the Nazis’ growing power, and
he moved to Prague in 1935. Acquired Czechoslovak citizenship two
years later and painted a portrait of Czechoslovakia’s
president Thomas Garrigue Masaryk in 1936.
In 1937, the Nazis condemned his work as “degenerate art” and
removed it from public view.
The artist fled to England in 1938 and remained there until 1952-53, becoming a British national in 1947.
Exhibitions of his work included his first US solo show in New York in 1947, plus shows in Boston in 1948 and Munich in 1950.
In 1953, he settled with
his wife Olda Kokoschka in
Villeneuve, near Geneva, and began teaching at the Internationale
Sommer Akademie für Bildenden Künste, where he initiated his Schule
He also created theatre sets for Salzburg and Vienna. In 1959 , he received
the Rome Award in 1959 and the Erasmus Award in Copenhagen
in 1960. The Tate Gallery, London held a retrospective of his work in 1962. It was only in the last years
of his life that he regained Austrian citizenship.
Kokoschka died on February 22, 1980, in Montreux, Switzerland. Seven years later,
she established the Oskar Kokoscha Foundation at the
Musée Jenisch in Vevey, Switzerland.
There is a blue plaque (the blue plaques scheme has been run by English Heritage since 1986) celebrating the fact of the great man living in London. It reads:
KOKOSCHKA, Oskar (1886-1980),
Painter, lived here.
Eyre Court, Finchley Road, NW8
The actress Vivien Leigh also lived in this beautiful block of flats in the 1930s and is located on the opposite side of the road but close to St Johns Wood tube station (North West London). It is on the same side of the road as Lords cricket ground and is best viewed travelling upstairs on the 82 or 13 buses!