416525453-KOKOSCHKA-paper-doc.doc - KOKOSCHKA THE EYE OF...

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KOKOSCHKA: THE EYE OF GOD Roy Forward Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), Vortrag [ Lecture ] O. Kokoschka , 1912, colour lithograph, 92.2 x 54.9 (image), 94.6 x 63.2 (sheet), National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, gift of Orde Poynton Esq. AO CMG 2000 1 ‘If any man hopes, in whatever he does, to escape the eye of God, he is grievously wrong’ 2 A study of the earlier works by Kokoschka held by the National Gallery of Australia 3 does not prepare one for the scarifying nature of this self-portrait. There is little trace here of the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) decorativeness favoured by the Vienna Secessionists, avant-garde artists who in 1897, in imitation of the Munich Secession of 1892 and the Dresden Secession of 1893, seceded from the official art association. Their president was Gustav Klimt, an artist greatly admired by Kokoschka, and among their main centres were the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts), where Kokoschka studied from 1904–09, and the associated Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Art Studios), which commissioned and published his early works just referred to. What could have happened to Kokoschka to bring about such a radical change? While a student, he was impressed by the masks, weapons and textiles of the South Pacific and Africa in the natural history museum: as we shall see, South Pacific masks in particular were to influence his treatment of the skin in many of his portraits from 1909 on; As a student he also saw for the first time paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and the Fauves, and sculptures by the Belgian George Minne, 4 experiences that helped him into more expressive drawing and greater painterliness; The ferment of change in the art world of Vienna itself was undoubtedly a factor, with such fellow artists as Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and Arnold Schönberg (who was a painter as well as a composer and writer, taking lessons from Gerstl from about 1906 and making about sixty paintings and two hundred drawings, mostly before 1912, many being highly expressionistic); Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was working in the same city, and his emphasis on the unconscious could have influenced the artist into a psychological mode of portraiture; Kokoschka in his own writings emphasised that the mind was the source of everything; 5 In 1909 Kokoschka’s entry in the second Vienna Kunstchau (a big art show by former Secessionists), a very wild self-portrait clay bust called The warrior , caught the attention of the architect Adolf Loos, 6 who hated Jugendstil and who introduced Kokoschka to Karl Kraus. Kraus was in the midst of a campaign against the use of fine art in advertising posters, and Kokoschka soon switched from his career in graphic design to painting Expressionist portraits of Loos’s and Kraus’s often wealthy friends; 7 Edith Hoffmann’s opinion of this very poster in 1947 was that it was ‘a hybrid of half-digested ethnographical recollections and of expressionism just emerging. It showed most of the characteristics of that style: the revolt against classical art; the desire to épater le bourgeois [shock the middle class] by means of violence,

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