Oskar Kokoschka at Musée d'Art Moderne of Paris
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Conversation with Sherry Fyman at the Oskar Kokoschka exhibition in Paris. October 2022
Sherry and I had first discovered Oskar Kokoschka in Vienna in 1913. We both liked his paintings but it is only by seeing an artist's work over and over again that you can start to appreciate an artist. Nearly 10 years later we got that chance.
Rossella There are some elements of composition in this painting that I find very interesting. The reds around the eyes and the hands draw you to the parts of the work that are the most emotional, the center of the painting, but the figure is facing in profile - taking you out of the painting. The splashes of black on the front of the garment bring you back into the painting and toward the viewer.
Sherry Herwarth Walden was the editor of the avant-garde journal Der Sturm and even though it was painted in 1910, the subject of the portrait was already concerned about the rise of Fascism. Kokoschka captured by the red in his hands, face and neck, the overwhelming anxiety of the sitter.
Sherry This painting was done in 1913 after the style of El Greco which Kokoschka discovered on a recent trip to Venice.
Rossella Everything leads back to Venice.
Sherry Kokoschka took a trip to the Dolomites with Alma Mahler, who was his lover at the time. In her memoirs, Alma Mahler describes this as a very important trip for Kokoschka. He took long walks in the forest and looked deeply at the surrounding colors. This was a turning point in Kokoschka’s work for he decided he was going to be a colorist.
Rossella Alma was a woman, not a man?
Sherry Yes. She was the wife of Mahler. She had a lot of affairs.
Rossella I wanted to ask you what is your take on the crossed arms because many of his self-portraits are posed this way. Hands tied? Inability to move? Inability to change something?
Sherry Yeh, I think it means he felt constricted and held back.
Rossella An absolute inability to break out of the chains?
Sherry Could be.
Rossella And could again be a political statement.
Sherry This double portrait Kokoschka did at the request of Carl, the man on the right, who was a friend of the painter. Carl had asked Kokoschka to do a portrait of the other man on the left. Kokoschka did it, inspired by Flemish diptychs that were done of married couples.
Rossella I was just about to tell you this work reminded me of diptychs.
Sherry My impression is that these men were lovers and a couple, implied by the format of the diptychs that had been used to portray married couples. The colors chosen to represent the men are also not a coincidence. According to Kokoschka, blue implied discretion and the color green stood for passion.
Sherry In 1918, several years after his breakup with Alma Mahler, Kokoschka had the artist Hermine Moon make a life size doll of Alma Mahler.
Rossella Yes that is one of the first things I noticed about his work originally at the Vienna exhibition. The appearance of an oversized doll next to him in the studio.
Sherry Kokoschka eventually destroyed the doll, dissatisfied with it but the image of an oversized doll made its way into some of his paintings.
Rossella It must have been some love affair.
Rossella Kokoschka’s work was targeted by the Nazis and identified as degenerate art. Some of his works were confiscated and like so many other artists he had to flee Nazism. Nine of his works were included in the Nazi's Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich of 1937. He responded with this portrait which he entitled Degenerate Artist. It’s an image of sheer resistance and an assertion of who he is and who he will be for the rest of his life. An artist.
Sherry Absolutely moving!