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A portrait artist who saw the future!


Unless you are deep into the history of art, Oskar Kokoschka will be a stranger to you. Well, his contribution to the expressionist movement was no less than that of Picasso or Matisse. But yes, unlike name of the legends I mentioned, Kokoschka could not escape the grind of the second world war. He was declared to be one of those degenerate artists by Nazis and was bared from painting.

But what was unique about his paintings? This article is to throw some light on such lesser known aspects of his art.


To give a brief idea of his ways, I would like to mention couple of sentences.

He disobeyed the rules and norms of art and followed his own path and ideas. In 1908, he displayed a series of nude drawings that interpreted the relationship between man and woman as a mixture of desires and violence. He then painted the Holy Virgin as a murderously seductive, fatal woman. Needless to say, the reactions did not go in favor of the artist.


But beyond all that, the most striking aspect was hidden in the portraits he did.


The portraits never looked beautiful. Moreover, in many cases, the subjects' outwardly appearance carried very little resemblance with the painting. As a result, often the commission was not paid to him because the subject or the family of the subject refused to take the portrait in the end.

But this would have not been so unusual. The expressionists projected what they saw beneath the skin. They painted the the truth of the person that might have betrayed the surface. Hence, acute likeness was not on the agenda anyway.


In Kokoschka's paintings, some strange deformations appeared often. Eventually, after some years, something used to happen to the subject that caused similar deformation in the outwardly appearance resulting in a likeness in the end.


For example, the portrait of Professor Auguste Forel, the famous Swiss Natural Scientist. When Kokoschka painted it, the professor was in perfect health. But the portrait showed a strange impression as if he was in distress of getting a devastating heart attack! Sadly, after some years, the Professor had a massive heart attack and a part of his brain was paralyzed. And the professor suddenly resembled the portrait.


Similar example is found in the portrait of reviewer and essayist Peter Scher. Without any knowledge of his past, Kokoschka painted him like a convict in agony. The fact was, Peter Scher spent some time in jail some years ago that he kept it from most people in his circle.


Kokoschka used to go beyond the ornamental façade of the human face and tried to paint, what is bubbling beneath the surface. The portraits that Kokoschka painted documented not only his models’ anxieties, but also their personal fluctuations. This approach is especially evident in the images of children. For most of them, idyllic innocence is shown in the fight against childhood fears, traumas, and waking maturity. Kokoschka grabbed the brush, not to paint an unreal but aesthetic world, but to engage in heated discussions about the mysteries of the human mentality, those dark depths inhabited by the unconscious. His own experiences about life and his power to connect with the subject made his artwork extraordinary.


Of course, such a genius could not have lived without his share of personal torment.

The woman who appeared in the life of the young artist was the femme fatale Alma Mahler. His obsession with her was expressed through over 400 letters, several oil paintings, and countless drawings. The joy of life and the pain of death in their passionate relationship materialized in the tragic loss of one or possibly two unborn children.


Bride of the wind , 1913-14 , Kokoschka depicted his stormy yet passionate reaction with Alma Mahler

But in fact, the spell of just three years of married life was marred by suspicion and paranoia. Kokoschka's passionate temperament caused acute distress to his loving wife. Later, after divorce, Alma said that those three years had been like hell and heaven at the same time. Alma later married Walter Gropius, the father of modern architecture of the western world.


But Kokoschka never recovered the sense of losing the woman he desired most. He ordered a doll looking like Alma and carried it around wherever he went.


But in the end, people outside the world of art, do not know who Oscar Kokoschka was, whereas even a child knows the iconic name of Pablo Picasso. It is the story of an ignored genius who could have resounded through centuries as much as his other contemporaries did.


Of course, Kokoschka exists even this day. Ex German Chancellor, Angela Markel had his painting on the wall of her office. But still, he should have been a household name by now.





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