Oskar Kokoschka (1 March 1886 (Pöchlarn, Austria-Hungary) – 22 February 1980 (Villeneuve, Switzerland)) – was an Austrian expressionist artist who in addition to painting wrote plays for the theater, was engaged in scenography, and taught at the Dresden and Salzburg art academies.
Features of the artist Oskar Kokoschka: a forefeeling of the imminent and inevitable death of the world intervened at the beginning of the twentieth century in painting, literature, and music. But that premonition provided Oskar Kokoschka with an unusual perspective: calm and contemplative; when it was impossible to escape from the disaster, you could find a temporary shelter. At different times of life, Kokoschka’s paintings were full of love, sense of home, and some fantasy. The bird's-eye views of Prague, Dresden, Marseille, Venice, and Stockholm preserved the general topographic features of the places, but due to the rich painting they created not the view of the city, but rather its spirit.
Oscar Kokoschka lived for almost 94 years, and he was always remembered for several turbulent years of his life - 1912-1913, and one crazy love story - an affair with Alma Mahler, the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. As if there was nothing before and nothing after that. Glossy magazines were constantly full of different articles about the complicated love story of Oscar and Alma: women’s magazines interpreted things from their point of view, men’s ones - from theirs. In the magazines for men, for instance, you could read something along the lines of “Kokoschka had an exact copy of Alma, a sex doll, which he eventually chopped off the head from.” In women’s magazines there were also some stories: “Alma breathed creative energy into Oskar - when they were not busy making love, he painted her.” Glossy magazines were not at all interested in the fact that Kokoschka spent the last 30 years of his life in complete solitude in a house in Switzerland with his wife, Olga Palkovskaya.
The influence of Alma Mahler on Oskar Kokoschka’s life, work and mental health (or rather ill health) was difficult to overestimate, but, nevertheless, there was so much passion inside him and so many events around him during those crazy years, that the artist would have completely achieved a state of mental disorder all on his own.
The dreaming boy
Kokoschka was supposed to become a chemist - he even quite confidently began his studies at a chemical school in Vienna. It was a rare thing for parents at all times, (if they were only not artists themselves), to have a desire to see their sons as artists. Oskar’s father was not very successful jeweler, but quite rational one. He considered chemistry to be a progressive science, which meant it was promising and profitable.
Painting came out of nowhere, but it was getting more and more interesting for Oskar. One of the teachers advised Kokoschka to send his drawings to the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. Oskar, like a bolt from the blue, was ranked first and got a scholarship from an art school. In 1905, he decided to study there without saying anything to his parents. It was in the spirit of the artist himself and in the spirit of the times - to see that as a sign and a fulfillment of destiny. But Oskar’s extraordinary ability also needed to be recognized.
Teachers quickly discerned an excellent draftsman in him - while still a student, Oskar began to teach drawing to visitors of the evening department of the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. And by the end of his studies, he had already became the artist of many illustrations (“Dreams”, “The dreaming boys”), postcards, he also became the author of several plays and a participant in a large exhibition organized by Gustav Klimt for young avant-garde artists.
Oskar Kokoschka was not accepted, expelled and bullied for several years in a row. Amazingly, but it worked in his favor. The young artist was expelled from school for scandalous erotic paintings presented at the Klimt exhibition. After the premiere of his play “Murderer, the hope of women”, tough and obscene, a new scandal erupted. Kokoschka was expelled from the art studios, where he could have earned his living for several years. But he wasn’t upset, instead he went to drink beer. In some tavern, he drank on a bet and found himself a new friend and a patron among his fans. It was a famous architect Adolf Loos, who was erecting modern buildings in Vienna. Loos recommended Kokoschka to his wealthy customers as a brilliant portrait painter.
Once Kokoschka came to Berlin - he was invited to paint covers for the magazine “Der Sturm” (German). It was worth returning to Vienna - he was accepted as a teacher at the very school from which several years ago he had been expelled for obscenity. Oskar Kokoschka must have had an inexplicable inner strength and artistic intuition. He seriously believed that he saw people through and could read the most secret thoughts. When contemporaries saw portraits painted by Kokoschka, they admitted that he managed to catch not so much the external resemblance as the internal essence of a man.
The wind bride
Kokoschka wrote more than 400 letters to Alma Mahler. He painted her constantly, bringing closer the moment when he would create a real masterpiece – she then promised to marry him. That love was desperate and passionate, too crazy for Alma. Oskar tormented her with tantrums and suspicions, gasped when she was not around. For him, there was nothing indecent and unacceptable in that story; there was always a lack of something.
When the romantic relationship was finished and the masterpiece was painted, Alma switched her attention to another genius, which became a trigger, in a sense, for Oskar Kokoschka to go to war. There had to be something stronger in the world than his love for Alma – for example, the First World War. In one of the battles the artist was shot in the head, and then on the battlefield they tried to finish him off with a bayonet, and pierced his lung. He was captured, lost his memory, wandered around hospitals, survived by a miracle, but the longing for Alma survived within him. He returned to Vienna later and ordered a rag doll, similar to his ex. He dressed her in lace and silk, and took her with him to the opera.
After several years of recovery, both mental and physical, a new batch of luck was waiting for Kokoschka. A rare and even extremely brilliant artist was so lucky with a well-paid job and profitable contracts - thus, probably, the universe paid him for personal tragedies. In 1919, he became a professor at the Dresden Academy and the owner of a house with a huge studio. In 1922, he went to participate in the Venice Biennale, but one day he got fed up with all of that and warned the doorman about his decision to quit the job in order to travel more. For the next 10 years.
Neither the First World War nor the Second one brought Kokoschka anything good. Mussolini then became the main critic of the Venice Biennale, and Hitler became the curator of German museums. Kokoschka’s works had become a part of the destructive exhibition “Degenerative Art”. In Germany, he had nothing more to do. Prague and a new, completely different, unexpected, tender love awaited him. He had lived with Olga Palkovskaya for more than 40 years, she followed her beloved one, and later her husband, from Prague to London, from London to Switzerland. When it was very difficult for them to make ends meet in England, Olga would sell cookies, and Oskar would sell small watercolor paintings with local landscapes. A few more of those paintings – and Kokoschka got the real fame and unconditional recognition: exhibitions in Vienna and Bern in the 1940s, the Venice Biennale, dedicated to his work in 1952. But he wanted to escape from the city and paint grasshoppers. The guilty universe allowed Oskar Kokoschka to live in peace and quiet for the last 30 years of his life among grasshoppers, on the shores of Lake Geneva.