Today I am composing my My Daily Art Display blog from Vienna. I have bestowed upon myself an early Christmas present – a three day holiday in the Austrian city and with it, a chance to visit three of the city’s wonderful art galleries. As I am in Austria, I thought it only right to feature an Austrian artist in today’s blog. One of the country’s three most illustrious painters, along with Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, was Oskar Kokoschka, who was born in 1886 in Pochlarn, a small town on the Danube. His father was a goldsmith from Prague and Oskar was his second of four sons.
Oskar graduated from a state school and then went to Vienna where he studied at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts from 1905 to 1909. During that time, he also worked at The Vienna Workshops, at which in 1908 they published his book, Die Träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Youth). His book, which as well as comprising of a number of his colour lithographs, was accompanied by some of his own poems. Originally the book had been planned for children but the nature of some of his writings was deemed to be more suitable for adult readers.
In 1912, Kokoschka met Alma Mahler, the widow of the great composer Gustav. Within a year of that first meeting they became inseparable. The affair lasted for years but eventually their relationship deteriorated and their passion for one another waned and they began to drift apart. Alma bargained with Kokoschka challenging him to paint a masterpiece for her and in return she would marry him. Kokoschka was consumed with this task and the “reward” at its completion.
The painting, die Windsbraut, (The Tempest) was one of his most famous works, which now hangs in the Kunstmuseum Basle. The picture shows the lovers side by side sheltering from a ferocious storm. His early preliminary sketches for this work show the bodies of the lovers almost as one, hand in hand but the final picture shows space between them and their hands apart. Maybe Kokoschka, as time went by, realised that his relationship with Alma was coming to an end. In the picture, whilst Alma looks peaceful and contented, the face of Kokoschka is more pensive and shows signs of worry. Was this because of the storm or was it his realisation that his beloved affair with Alma was doomed. It is not a look of a lover’s satisfied contentment. It is a sad look, almost one of bereavement – the death of the affair – the imminent loss of his soul mate.