“… What makes these portraits the most poignant gallery of individuals painted in this century… is the intensity of the artist’s personal involvement which made him sweep aside the protective covering of conventional ‘decorum’ to reveal his compassion with a lonely and tormented human being.” Ernst Gombrich on Kokoschka’s intimate ‘psychological portraits’.
Oskar Kokoschka was born in Pšchlarn and grew up in Vienna. He went to study at the School of Arts and Crafts in 1905 and remained there for four years. He first made an impact with his ‘psychological portraits’ in which he seemed to express intimate truths about his subject.
His first one-man exhibition took place in 1910 at Paul Cassier’s gallery in Berlin. Around this time he started to contribute illustrations to Der Sturm, the avant garde periodical based in Berlin. After serving with the Austrian Army he was badly wounded and took to teaching at the Dresden Academy in 1919. He left in 1924 and spent the following years travelling. He moved away from portraits to painting landscapes, specialising in bird’s eye views of cities, for example Jerusalem’ (1929-1930). By 1938 he had settled in London, after the Nazis had declared his work as degenerate. After the war Kokoschka moved to Switzerland in 1953 and ran a summer school at Salzburg.
He is regarded as one of the early masters of modern art. His paintings were remarkable for their psychological depth and distinctive brand of Expressionism. His later works were based on mythology such as ‘Prometheus'(1950) for the ceiling of the house of Count Seilern and the ‘Thermopylae’ triptych (1954) for Hamburg University. He also wrote a number of plays Including the controversial Expressionist work of 1908, ‘Murder Hope of Women’.