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Quote, price and estimation of the artist Oskar Kokoschka
Price of a painting: 7 500 – 15,800,000 €.
Price of a drawing: 110 – 290,000 €
Estimate of a sculpture: 400 – 3,800 €.
Estimation of a print: 100 – 900 €.
Estimate of a tapestry: 1,500 €.
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Kokoschka, a counter-current painter
When he was just three years old, his father went bankrupt and the family moved to Vienna. It was here that Kokoschka experienced his first aesthetic shock, discovering the baroque stained-glass windows and frescoes of the Piaristenkirche, the Church of the Piarists.
Convinced of his artistic vocation, Kokoschka began his training at the age of 18. He was awarded a scholarship to attend the Kunstgewerbeschule (now the University of Applied Arts) in Vienna, where he studied lithography and drawing under the tutelage of artists such as Gustav Klimt.
In spite of good results, Kokoschka was not satisfied with this teaching focused on the decorative arts. A humanist at heart, he would rather devote himself to the study of the human figure. But at a time when the decorative arts, and in particular Jugendstil, the Germanic equivalent of Art Nouveau, dominated the national art scene, his inclination was met with incomprehension from his entourage.
After completing his training, he tried to find subsidiary ways of studying according to a living model. Nevertheless, his precarious financial situation forces him to spend most of his time on decorative work. It was his meeting with Adolf Loos in 1908 that finally allowed him to devote himself to art as he understood it.
This eminent Viennese architect, impressed by Kokoschka’s early paintings, became his main mentor and enabled the 22-year-old artist to begin his true artistic career.
Expression and psychology at the heart of his painting
His work is quickly distinguished by its resolutely expressionist style. Indeed, Kokoschka aspires to capture the personality and character of his subjects, rather than their physical appearances. By opting for a vivid palette and deliberately exaggerating certain features, the artist wishes to represent the emotional and psychological states of his models. For the artist, painting must be a four-dimensional process, the last dimension being a projection of himself, of his feelings.
Thanks to Loos, Kokoschka was able to make a place for himself in the art world. In 1910, he spent a year in Berlin, where his first solo exhibition was held. Back in Vienna the following year, he presented paintings at the Der Sturm Gallery, alongside Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Franz Marc.
The following year, Kokoschka met Alma Mahler, with whom he had a tumultuous affair for three years and who then became his muse. In The Bride of the Wind (1913), the painter depicts a couple curled up in a violent storm, expressing all the passion of their crazy love affairs.
During this period, the artist’s style matured considerably. As the brushstroke thickens, the lines break more sharply and the contours become even more accentuated. His Double Portrait, once again depicting the couple, illustrates this shift towards ever more expressive portraits.
Enlisted in the First World War, Kokoschka was seriously wounded in 1915. While recovering in Vienna and then in Dresden, Germany, he devoted himself to writing several plays. A great humanist, the artist was terribly disillusioned when the Red Revolution brought bloodshed to Russia in 1917. Disgusted with politics, which he associated with the violent and dehumanized quest for power, Kokoschka put aside the subjects he had been engaged in for a time.
During the 1920s, he made several trips to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. He then returned to the landscape, a second aspect of his artistic career. While retaining his nervous touch, Kokoschka honours the light and colour of the views he depicts, as in Jerusalem (1929-1930).
Kokoschka’s political and artistic involvement
In 1931, he returned to Vienna and accepted his first political commission since the war. After moving to Prague in 1934, he was invited to paint a portrait of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, President of the Czech Republic and philosopher. During the break sessions, the two men discuss their common admiration for the theologian John Amos Comenius. Kokoschka then decided to place the portrait of Comenius in the background of Masaryk’s portrait, as a kind of humanist mise en abîme.
When the Second World War broke out, Kokoschka’s works were censored as degenerate art by the Nazi regime. In 1938, the artist decided to flee the continent and took refuge in London. Living precariously, he painted mainly in watercolour, which was less expensive than oil painting. During this period of great turmoil, he expressed his concern for humanity and his aversion to war with large-format canvases such as The Red Egg (1940-1941) and Why We Fight (1943).
After the war, Kokoschka’s work is enjoying renewed interest. His works were exhibited in Europe, in Zurich, London and Venice, as well as in the United States. With his financial situation considerably improved, he turned to landscape and portraiture.
In 1953, he chose to settle permanently in Villeneuve, Switzerland. There he became a teacher and taught a course in Salzbourd which he called “L’Ecole du Regard”.
Naturalised as British citizen in 1947, he accepted to once again become an Austrian citizen in 1975. The same year, his failing eyesight forced him to end his career. He died in 1980, leaving behind him a prodigious artistic production and an autobiography, Ma vie, written in 1964.
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