Rediscover Kokoschka and meet the avant-garde

Oskar Kokoschka, Mandrill, 1926, oil on canvas. Collection Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Studio Tromp, Rotterdam. © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka, Vevey / 2013, ProLitteris. Design: Thonik.

Press release

Rediscover Kokoschka and meet the avant-garde
4 September 2013

Major autumn exhibition: until 19 January 2014

Rediscover in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen the most discussed, desired and maligned artist of the 20th century: Oskar Kokoschka. The major autumn exhibition entitled ‘Oskar Kokoschka - Portraits of People and Animals’ will take the visitor on a tour through the exceptional oeuvre and tempestuous life of the Austrian painter.

Visitors who enter the large Bodon galleries in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will go back a century in time. Large advertising columns take the spectator back to the European city as it was at the start of the 20th century. The columns will introduce the eight themes of the exhibition, including the animal portraits and the political allegories. From Vienna, to Berlin, to Dresden: the confrontational portraits will introduce the visitor to the circle of famous writers, architects and politicians in which Kokoschka moved.

In 1904, Kokoschka was admitted to the Kunstgewerbeschule in the Vienna of Sigmund Freud, Gustav Klimt and Hans Makart. Here, the painter rebelled against the established order. He painted models in movement, even though the decorative Jugenstil was the norm. Kokoschka exhibits his work at the Vienna Kunstschau exhibition, organized by Gustav Klimt. At the Kunstschau architect Adolf Loos discovered Kokoschka and later introduced him into the cultural elite. This resulted in his early portraits of people such as publicist Karl Kraus and publisher of the avant-garde magazine Herwarth Walden, both of which can be seen in the exhibition. He also obtained access to the soirées of the philanthropic Eugenie and Hermann Schwarzwald, which were attended by composers Schönberg, Berg and Webern. As up and coming artist in Vienna, Kokoschka came into contact with the work of Anton Romako and George Minne, but Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh and the objects from the Völkerkundemuseum also became important sources of inspiration for him.

The Berlin period is mainly characterised by the work Kokoschka made for the avant-garde magazine Der Sturm. He produced countless drawings and the magazine also published his play ‘Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen’ including illustrations. Back in Vienna he met Alma Mahler, the widow of the famous composer. The tumultuous love affair that lasted for three years proved an important source of inspiration for the painter. His beloved Alma finally married architect Walter Gropius, the later director of Bauhaus. Kokoschka exhibited his work together with the art movement Der Blaue Reiter, to which Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc belonged.

During the First World War, in which Kokschka was seriously wounded, he revalidated in Dresden. Here he produced portraits of his new circle of friends, consisting mainly of expressionist writers and actors. In the 20s he travels to Europe and North Africa. Years later, in 1937, Kokoschka fled to England after the Nazis had confiscated four hundred of his works. Kokoschka ventilated his political position in paintings in which Hitler, Mussolini and the prime minister of the United Kingdom Arthur Neville Chamberlain play the leading role.

On view in the Netherlands
After the Second World War there is a lot published on Kokoschka, he received an honorary doctorate from the University in Oxford and his work was exhibited throughout the world. In the Netherlands, various museums, including Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, acquired his work. And in 1960 he was awarded, together with Marc Chagall, the prestigious Erasmus Prize. Now, 33 years after his death, the museum is mounting a major retrospective of the work of Kokoschka: one of the most important artists of the Austrian expressionism.

The exhibition 'Oskar Kokoschka - Portraits of People and Animals' is made possible by the generous support from the Special Benefactors, the BankGiro Loterij, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (made possible by Breeman Talle Fonds), SNS REAAL Fonds, Ploum Lodder Princen, Zabawas, AON Artscope, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, K.F. Hein Foundation, Farrow & Ball and Crown.