Oskar Kokoschka

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Oskar Kokoschka, photographed by Erling Mandelmann in 1963

Oskar Kokoschka [ 'ko: kɔʃkɐ ] (born March 1, 1886 in Pöchlarn , Lower Austria ; † February 22, 1980 in Montreux , Switzerland ) was an Austrian painter , graphic artist and writer of Expressionism and Viennese Modernism .


Kokoschka's birthplace in Pöchlarn, today's Kokoschka House (photo 2006)

Origin and family

Oskar Kokoschka was the second son of the traveling salesman Gustav Josef Kokoschka (1840–1923) and his wife Maria Romana, nee. Loidl (1861–1934), born. The ancestors on his father's side came from a Prague goldsmith family. In 1887 the family moved to Vienna ; his older brother Gustav died that same year. Two years later his sister Bertha Theresia was born (1889–1960), another three years later his younger brother Bohuslav (1892–1976).


First, Kokoschka attended the state secondary school in Währing . His earliest surviving drawings and watercolors date from this period. Against the opposition of the other teachers, Kokoschka was accepted into Carl Otto Czeschka's class. Czeschka thus gave him the opportunity to become a painter. He then attended the arts and crafts school in Vienna from 1905 to 1909 . One of his classmates was Elsa Oeltjen-Kasimir . Kokoschka was also shaped by the works of Vincent van Gogh . Under the influence of Adolf Loos , he already rejected the Art Nouveau that was still prevalent at that time . Thanks to Loos' mediation, his early expressive portrait paintings found good sales, and German museums in particular (including the Folkwang Museum ) decided to purchase works.

Due to his acquaintance with the writer and art dealer Herwarth Walden, he moved to Berlin in 1910 , where he made his most famous pen drawings for the expressionist art magazine Der Sturm for his own drama Murderer, Hope of Women , which sparked a theatrical scandal when it premiered in 1921 . The art collector Franz Hauer was also one of his sponsors .
From June 21 to July 11, 1911, Paul Cassirer exhibited Kokoschka's works for the first time. There were around 30 paintings and eight illustrations for his poem The White Tiertöter that were presented in the “Park Schönbrunn” café, today's Parkhotel Richmond , in Karlsbad . The collector Karl Ernst Osthaus brought the exhibition to his private Folkwang Museum in Hagen . During this time Osthaus acquired the portrait of the Duchess Victoria de Montesquiou-Fesensac , which is entitled A Precious Woman . This first painting by Kokoschka that was taken to a museum was sold to the Folkwang Museum in Essen in 1923. As a work of " degenerate art ", the painting was auctioned in Zurich in 1937 and ended up in the USA, where it has been part of the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum since 1983 .

In 1911 Kokoschka returned to Vienna, where he showed twenty-five paintings at an exhibition by the Hagenbund Artists' Association .

Alma Mahler and war volunteer (1911–1916)

In 1911 he became friends with Alma Mahler , the widow of the composer and conductor Gustav Mahler , who later became Alma Mahler-Werfel. From 1912 he lived with her; his three years of intense and possessive, but ultimately unfulfilled, love for her spawned various significant works of art, including well-known paintings (see the entry on Alma Mahler), the fans, and also a series of lithographs. A passionate correspondence testifies to the extreme emotional states of both partners towards each other.

Kokoschka's painting also changed during this time: he worked with broader brushstrokes and pastose colors. In the autumn of 1913, Kokoschka began to work with full devotion on a picture entitled Tristan und Isolde , in which he wanted to immortalize his complicated love for Alma Mahler . The Austrian poet Georg Trakl , who was allowed to witness the genesis of this picture every day, wrote the poem Die Nacht in the studio , which then gave the picture its later famous name: “Over blackish cliffs / falls dead drunk / the glowing bride of the wind / the blue wave / Of the glacier / And it roars / The bell in the valley is powerful: / Flames, curses / And the dark / Games of lust, / Storms the sky / A petrified head (..). "

It wasn't just Alma who inspired him to paint this picture. Kokoschka reported deeply moved about the painterly experience that he was able to make thanks to the mysterious presence of the famous Tizian painting Venus and the Organ Player, which his friend Oskar Moll temporarily hid in his studio before being mediated by Gustav Robert Paalen from Wilhelm von Bode for the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin: “The movement of the beholder's eye is no longer determined by the signs of the contour and the local color, but entirely by the luminosity, which is the same miracle in painting for the first time as once did the archaic-ionic sculpture. There the space is broken down into the smallest of facets. The light not only touches the surface, it moves it. The Egyptian space was thus overcome once and for all. After that, the light - and not just the cubic mass and volume - will move the spatial composition. ”In 1914 Kokoschka became a member of the Free Secession in Berlin. That year, Alma Mahler became pregnant and aborted the child against Kokoschka's will. Among other things, this led to the very difficult separation for him and had far-reaching consequences for him. He enlisted in the First World War as a volunteer at the Imperial and Royal Dragoons regiment "Archduke Joseph" no. 15 and was in operations in Galicia and Ukraine on August 29, 1915, Lutsk severely wounded by shot in the head and a bayonet thrust to the lungs. The headshot destroyed the labyrinth of one ear and with it his sense of balance. Fortunately, he returned to his troops and was transported to Vienna in a hospital train. He survived the injuries and worked as a war painter on the Isonzo Front in 1916 . In the same year two lithography cycles were published by him.

Dresden and Travel (1917–1931)

Portrait photo of Kokoschka by Hugo Erfurth (1919)

In 1917 he moved to Dresden . From 1919 to 1926 he held a professorship there at the art academy . He was friends with Hans Posse , the director of the Dresden Gemäldegalerie, who added Kokoschka's works to his museum collection and gave the artist a major appearance in the German pavilion at the 13th Venice Biennale in 1922. In 1924 Kokoschka took leave of his professorship in order to start an international career. In the following years he undertook extensive travels through Europe, North Africa and areas around the eastern Mediterranean, which inspired him to do numerous city portraits and landscapes.

In 1919 Hermann Struck published the third edition of his work The Art of Etching and for the first time paid tribute to old masters such as B. Dürer and Rembrandt, also the young masters like Oskar Kokoschka, Max Liebermann and Ernst Oppler . Collecting etchings came out of the shadows, just being a cheap way of collecting paintings. In 1930 three of his early works were shown at the Prague Secession exhibitions.

In 1931 he returned to Vienna, had exhibitions in Paris and Vienna and commuted between the two places for longer stays.

Exile in Prague (1934–1938)

Bust of Kokoschka in front of the University of Applied Arts (Vienna)

From 1933 Kokoschka intended to live permanently in Vienna, but after the death of his mother (1934) he was forced by the political events in Germany and Austria to flee to Prague in the same year , where he also met his future wife Olda Palkovská . In 1935 he received Czechoslovak citizenship. Kokoschka's views of Prague with the Charles Bridge and a portrait of President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk date from this period .

The National Socialists defamed Kokoschka as the "most degenerate of the degenerate" and his works as " degenerate art ", he was considered Hitler's "art enemy No. 1". In 1937 the Oskar Kokoschka Bund was founded in Prague to counter the (in) Nazi German art . The chairmen were Theo Balden , Heinz Werner and Kurt Lade, treasurer Annemarie Balden-Wolff (then Romahn). They met every two weeks and held exhibitions and artist festivals in the Stranice emigre's home . In addition to exhibitions of “degenerate art”, he organized exhibitions by Sudeten and Reich German artists. An exhibition of Free German Art was also held together with the Paris German Artists Association in Paris in the summer of 1938.

Exile in England (1938–1953)

After the announcement of mobilization in Czechoslovakia in May 1938, Oskar Kokoschka fled again, this time to Great Britain, as his works were defamed as "degenerate art" by the National Socialists, partially destroyed and removed from museums. A total of 417 paintings were confiscated. During his time in exile in England, Kokoschka was a member of the Executive Committee of the Austrian Center and maintained close contacts with the Austrian exile organizations Free Austrian Movement and Young Austria . He wrote essays for newspapers in exile and made himself available as a speaker for exhibition openings and meetings. He was also one of the chairmen of the Free German Cultural Association. In 1941 he married Olda Palkovská in an air raid shelter in London . To escape the attacks of the German air force , Kokoschka moved to Polperro (Cornwall). Here his former Dresden student Hilde Goldschmidt visited him .

During this time he also created the pictures The Red Egg (1940) and Connection - Alice in Wonderland (1942), the proceeds of which he donated to the Free Austrian Movement . From February 19, 1947 he was a British citizen and carried out his first major exhibitions in Zurich and Basel after the Second World War . It was not until 1975 that he again took on Austrian citizenship.

Villeneuve (1953-1980)

Grave of Oskar Kokoschka in the Clarens cemetery

In 1953, together with Friedrich Welz , Kokoschka founded the International Summer Academy for Fine Arts Salzburg on the Hohensalzburg Fortress as a school of vision . Also in 1953 he moved to Villeneuve on Lake Geneva in Switzerland . This was followed by a number of trips to other European and non-European countries as well as various retrospectives of his work, including in Switzerland, Austria and Japan.

As a member of the German Association of Artists, Oskar Kokoschka participated in its annual exhibitions from 1952 to 1955. He was a participant in documenta 1 (1955), documenta II (1959), and also documenta III in 1964 in Kassel . In 1966 he won the competition for a commissioned portrait of Konrad Adenauer for the German Bundestag against competitor Eugen Denzel .

Kokoschka died on February 22, 1980 in Montreux and was buried in the Clarens cemetery. After his death, the Oskar Kokoschka Prize was launched for achievements in the field of fine arts.



In 1988 his widow Olda (née Palkovská) founded a Kokoschka Foundation, which manages over a thousand works in the Musée Jenisch in Vevey . Kokoschka's extensive library and numerous photographs from his property were bequeathed by his widow to the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. After the death of Kokoschka's wife, the works of the Kokoschka Foundation were claimed by his nephew Roman Kokoschka, a doctor in Vienna, who wanted to bring her to Vienna. Olda Kokoschka gave her husband's written estate in her possession to the Zurich Central Library in 1981 as part of a donation . In 1990, 1993 and 2004 further parts of the estate were transferred there.

Oskar Kokoschka Documentation Pöchlarn

In 1973 the association for research and documentation of the work of Oskar Kokoschka was founded under the patronage of Oskar and Olda Kokoschka. The house where Oskar Kokoschka was born was bought by the municipality of Pöchlarn in 1998 and converted into a museum and gallery in the following years. In what is known as the Kokoschka House, there are annually changing exhibitions related to Oskar Kokoschka and his students. Interesting contemporary artists are also presented.

Exhibitions (selection)

  • 1976: Oskar Kokoschka, portraits 1914–1975. Galerie Roswitha Haftmann Modern Art, Zurich
  • 1982: Oskar Kokoschka, watercolors, drawings, graphics. Galerie Roswitha Haftmann Modern Art, Zurich
  • 1986: Oskar Kokoschka, watercolors, colored pencil drawings from Scotland, graphics. Galerie Roswitha Haftmann Modern Art, Zurich
  • 1994/1995: Oskar Kokoschka, Emigrantenleben - Prague and London 1934-1953, Kunsthalle Bielefeld & Nationalgalerie Prague
  • 2010: Oskar Kokoschka's antiquity. A European vision of modernity. Moritzburg Foundation , Halle an der Saale
  • 2017/2018: Oskar Kokoschka and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Kirchner Museum Davos
  • 2018/2019: Oskar Kokoschka. A retrospective. Kunsthaus Zürich , in cooperation with the Leopold Museum , Vienna (curated by Cathérine Hug)

Works (selection)


  • 1909: Still life with pineapple , oil on canvas, 109 × 78 cm, National Museums in Berlin , National Gallery , Berlin
  • 1910: Portrait of Herwarth Walden , Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
  • 1910: Still life with mutton and hyacinth , Belvedere , Vienna
  • 1912: Portrait of Karl Etlinger , Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe
  • 1913: The Bride of the Wind , Kunstmuseum Basel
  • 1913: The Woman's Face , sheet 1 of the series The Fettered Columbus (portrait of Alma Mahler), lithograph, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum , Braunschweig
  • 1918: self-portrait
  • 1918: The Power of Music , Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum , Eindhoven
  • 1922: Dresden-Neustadt , Kunsthalle Hamburg
  • 1926: Tiger Löwe , Belvedere, Vienna
  • 1926: Pariser Platz painted on behalf of Paul Cassirer , Berlin, (Nationalgalerie?)
  • 1931: Pan: Trudl with goat , Sprengel-Museum, Hanover
  • 1934: Prague: Charles Bridge , National Gallery Prague
  • 1937: Self-Portrait of a 'Degenerate Artist' , National Gallery of Scotland
  • 1950: Portrait of Prof. Dr. Theodor Heuss , Museum of the City of Cologne, Museum Ludwig
  • 1950: Prometheus triptych , The Samuel Courtald Trust, London; Courtald Institute of Art Gallery
  • 1951: The Port of Hamburg , Museum of Modern Art , New York
  • 1952: The Feilchenfeldt siblings , private property ( Walter and Konrad Feilchenfeldt )
  • 1954: Thermopylae triptych, Hamburg, University
  • 1955: Stage sets and costumes for The Magic Flute , Salzburg Festival
  • 1956: Vienna, State Opera
  • 1956: View of the city of Cologne from the Messeturm , Museum Ludwig, Cologne
  • 1966: Portrait of Konrad Adenauer

Book illustrations

Poems and dramas

From 1907 Kokoschka wrote expressionist plays. Kokoschka directed the production of Job and Murderer, Hope of Women on June 3, 1917 at the Albert Theater in Dresden . His dramas were increasingly performed again in the 1990s.

  • 1907: The dreaming boys
  • 1907: Sphinx and straw man. A curiosum. Comedy for automata (drama) premiered March 29, 1909 in Cabaret Fledermaus, Vienna and April 14, 1917 in the Dada gallery in Zurich
  • 1908: The white animal killer
  • 1907/1910 and 1907/1916: Murderer, Hope of Women (drama),
  • 1911: The Burning Bush (drama)
  • 1913: Allos Makar
  • 1914: appropriation
  • 1917: Job (drama) as an extended version of Sphinx and Straw Man (1907)
  • 1918: Orpheus and Eurydice (drama). 1923 new version as opera libretto. Music: Ernst Krenek . Premiere November 27, 1926, Staatstheater Kassel
  • 1920: Daisy
  • 1936–1938 / 1972: Comenius (drama)


Kokoschka wrote essays and poems , as well as the autobiography Mein Leben (1971). His correspondence appeared from 1984.

  • 1956 writings 1907–1955. Published by Hans Maria Wingler. (Memories and Stories, Poems, Dramas, About Artists and Art, Letters and Appendix with Register)
  • 1971: my life . Foreword and documentary collaboration by Remigius Netzer .
  • 1973: The written work . Published by Heinz Spielmann . 1973ff


On the donation of a considerable number of works of art to the Republic of Austria , Kokoschka's widow had tied the condition that Oskar Kokoschka's complete graphic works be published in the form of a four-volume catalog of works. Its authors are Alice Strobl and Alfred Weidinger . The work is published by the Albertina in Vienna and the Oskar Kokoschka Documentation in Pöchlarn.


Oskar Kokoschka's Alma Mahler replacement doll

Mainly through Paulus Manker's Alma show, the general public became aware that in July 1918 Oskar Kokoschka had a life-size doll made by the Munich doll maker Hermine Moos based on the model of Alma Mahler . The doll was supposed to serve as a replacement for his lost lover, but it disappointed Kokoschka so much that he soon destroyed it. In recent years, the life-size Alma doll has been specially built according to Kokoschka's plans.

Search for Kokoschka sprouts

Although Kokoschka had no offspring, which, according to his nephew Roman Kokoschka, led to a lifelong trauma, Kokoschka found that he was similar to the American director and Oscar winner Peter Foges . He therefore wants to support investigations that should clearly determine whether Foges, whose mother Kokoschka had met, is a son of Kokoschka.


  • Hans M. Wingler, Friedrich Welz : Oskar Kokoschka - The graphic work. Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 1975, ISBN 3-85349-037-9 .
  • Werner J. Schweiger : The young Kokoschka - life and work 1904–1914. Edition Christian Brandstätter, Vienna / Munich 1983. (= series of the Oskar Kokoschka Documentation Pöchlarn, Volume 1.)
  • Gabriele Koller, Oswald Oberhuber : Oskar Kokoschka, city portraits. Löcker Verlag, Vienna / Munich 1986, ISBN 3-85409-091-9 .
  • Norbert Werner (ed.): Kokoschka - life and work in data and pictures (= Insel-Taschenbuch. 909). Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1991, ISBN 3-458-32609-X . Informative compact display with half the image.
  • Hans-Josef Olszewsky:  Kokoschka, Oskar. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 4, Bautz, Herzberg 1992, ISBN 3-88309-038-7 , Sp. 307-319.
  • Johann Winkler, Katharina Erling: Oskar Kokoschka - The paintings 1906–1929. Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 1995.
  • Alfred Weidinger: Kokoschka's King Lear. Albertina, Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-900656-29-0 .
  • Alfred Weidinger: Kokoschka and Alma Mahler - documents of a passionate encounter. ( Pegasus Library. ) Prestel Verlag, Munich / New York 1996, ISBN 3-7913-1711-3 . Well-founded presentation of the relationship between Kokoschka and Alma Mahler with reference to art history; many color u. b / w-fig. assigned to the corresponding text passages, CVs, source and References.
  • Heinz Spielmann: Oskar Kokoschka - life and work. Dumont, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-8321-7320-X . Basic and comprehensive standard monograph.
  • Gloria Sultano, Patrick Werkner: Oskar Kokoschka: Art and Politics 1937–1950 . Böhlau, Vienna 2003, ISBN 3-205-77030-7 . ( online )
  • Wolfgang Maier-Preusker : Book and portfolio works with graphics of German Expressionism. Exhibition catalog for the Hanseatic City of Wismar. Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-900208-37-9 .
  • Alfred Weidinger, Alice Strobl: Oskar Kokoschka. The drawings and watercolors 1897–1916. Catalog of works, 1st volume. Edited by Albertina. Verlag Galerie Welz, Salzburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-85349-290-1 .
  • Agnes Husslein-Arco, Alfred Weidinger (eds.); Alfred Weidinger: Oskar Kokoschka. Dreaming boy - enfant terrible, 1906–1922. Belvedere, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-901508-37-0 .
  • Katja Schneider , Stefan Lehmann (eds.): Oskar Kokoschkas Antike. A European vision of modernity. With contributions by R. Bonnefoit, A. and D. Furtwängler, A. Gutsfeld, St. Lehmann, Chr. Mileta, H. Spielmann, P. Weidmann. Hirmer Verlag, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-7774-2581-8 .
  • Régine Bonnefoit, Ruth Häusler (ed.): Trace in the quicksand - Oskar Kokoschka seen again . Letters and pictures, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2010, ISBN 978-3-86568-524-7 .
  • Tobias G. Natter, Franz Smola (Ed.): Kokoschka - The I in focus. An exhibition in collaboration with the Oskar Kokoschka Center of the University of Applied Arts Vienna. (Exhibition cat. Leopold Museum, Vienna, October 4, 2013– January 27, 2014). Vienna 2013, ISBN 978-3-85033-785-4 .
  • Agnes Tieze : Oskar Kokoschka and the Prague cultural scene . Wienand, Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-86832-232-3 . ( Catalog for the exhibitions of the same name in the Kunstforum Ostdeutsche Galerie Regensburg and in the National Gallery in Prague )
  • Rüdiger Görner: Oskar Kokoschka: artist of the century. Paul Zsolnay Verlag, Vienna 2018, ISBN 978-3-552-05905-4 .

Web links

Commons : Oskar Kokoschka  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Werner J. Schweiger: The young Kokoschka - life and work 1904-1914. Edition Christian Brandstätter, Vienna / Munich 1983 (= series of the Oskar Kokoschka Documentation Pöchlarn, Volume 1.)
  2. http://hauspublikationen.mak.at/viewer/image/1368237525364_0001/16/ (pp. 15-17)
  3. ^ Rainer Stamm : Nerve madness. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . June 28, 2010.
  4. Kokoschka: Dreaming Boy - Enfant terrible, 1906-1922. Belvedere, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-901508-37-0 , p. 296.
  5. Georg Trakl: The poetic work. dtv, Munich 1972, p. 123; for mutual inspiration Kokoschka / Trakl in the spring of 1914 see. a. Allen Janik and Stephen Toulmin: Wittgenstein's Vienna. Piper, Munich 1987, p. 119
  6. Oskar Kokoschka: My life. ed. v. Remigius Netzer. Bruckmann, Munich 1972, p. 132f.
  7. Hans-Georg Hofer: Nerve weakness and war: Criticism of modernity and crisis management in Austrian psychiatry (1880-1920). Böhlau Verlag, 2004, ISBN 3-205-77214-8 , pp. 255 f.
  8. Rahel E. Feilchenfeldt-Steiner, Thomas Raff: A festival of the arts: Paul Cassirer: the art dealer as a publisher. P. 130.
  9. On the exhibition of the Prague Secession , article by Oskar Schürer in the journal Deutsche Kunst und Decoration , pp. 314–317, 1930
  10. Oskar Kokoschka - Biographical Data The Applied Art Collection
  11. ^ Heuss portrait / painting: A German man . In: Der Spiegel . No. 18 , 1951 ( online ).
  12. ^ Exhibition of German Art in London , with a photo by Oskar Kokoschka that was torn into four parts by the Gestapo, July 7, 1938, in the Austrian National Library.
  13. Walter Schurian (Ed.): Hilde Goldschmidt. Hartmann, Munich 1983, p. 10.
  14. Norbert Mayer : Oskar Kokoschka: A look into the face of truth. In: The press . April 10, 2008.
  15. ^ Kuenstlerbund.de: Membership and participation in exhibitions by Oskar Kokoschka (accessed on September 17, 2014)
  16. Honorary Members: Oskar Kokoschka. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 13, 2019 .
  17. Oskar Kokoschka (...) . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung. November 14, 1976, p. 12, col. 5 middle
  18. Entry on 500 Schilling - Oskar Kokoschka (1990) in the Austria Forum  (in the coin album)
  19. Kokoschka's widow's testament is contested In: Der Standard . August 31, 2006.
  20. Written estate in the Zurich Central Library (PDF; 43 kB)
  21. Ludmila Vachtova . Roswitha Haftmann . P. 94
  22. Ludmila Vachtova. Roswitha Haftmann . P. 96
  23. Ludmila Vachtova. Roswitha Haftmann . P. 104
  24. halle.de: Sunday tour of the exhibition "Oskar Kokoschkas Antike" (accessed on September 17, 2015)
  25. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner & Oskar Kokoschka , kirchnermuseum.ch
  26. ^ Print easily accessible in Berghof (Red.): Art in the persecution: " Degenerate Art " - Exhibition 1937 in Munich. Examples. Neckar, Villingen 1998, without ISBN, large format
  27. In: Derwesten.de , January 31, 2016
  28. Oskar Kokoschka. Painter and Alma's lover .
  29. Oskar Kokoschka. Alma Mahler replacement doll .
  30. Alma Mahler doll for Oskar Kokoschka - exhibition in the Belvedere .
  31. Now Kokoschka's nephew is speaking . ( Memento of February 24, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) In: Kurier , February 21, 2010.