Monday, August 19, 2013

Kokoschka, Oskar

Two Nudes (Lovers)
oil on canvas
163.2 x 97.5 cm
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, USA

Painted in Vienna in the years just prior to World War I, Two Nudes is a self-portrait of Kokoschka with Alma Mahler, a symbolic testimonial to the artist's tumultuous affair with the widow of the great composer Gustav Mahler. Kokoschka's haunted expression and the ambiguous poses of the two lovers - who seem both to embrace and to move past each other - reflect a complex and tormented relationship. Kokoschka's bold brushwork and Expressionist style were influenced not only by van Gogh but by the sixteenth-century Spanish painter El Greco, whose work Kokoschka greatly admired. (MFA Boston)

Oskar Kokoschka (1886 - 1980) was an Austrian painter, illustrator, poet, and playwright, who is credited with founding Expressionist drama, best known for his intense expressionistic portraits and landscapes. He is the third in the great trio of Viennese artists (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele), and the one whose reputation is currently hardest to assess. On the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered to join the cavalry. While on patrol, he was machine-gunned and bayoneted but was eventually rescued. As an artist Kokoschka started to gain international fame in the 1920. In the Nazi Germany his works were banned by the authorities, and mocked as examples of degenerate art. Kokoschka's last years were somewhat embittered, as he found himself marginalized as a curious footnote to art history.

Kokoschka had a passionate, often stormy affair with Alma Mahler (widow of composer Gustav Mahler). After several years together, Alma rejected him, explaining that she was afraid of being too overcome with passion. He continued his unrequited love for Alma Mahler his entire life.