b. 1886, Pöchlarn, Austria-Hungary (Austria); d. 1980, Montreux, Switzerland
Oskar Kokoschka was born March 1, 1886, in the Austrian town of Pöchlarn. He spent most of his youth in Vienna, where he entered the Kunstgewerbeschule in 1904 or 1905. While still a student, he painted fans and postcards for the Wiener Werkstätte, which published his first book of poetry in 1908. That same year, Kokoschka was fiercely criticized for the works he exhibited in the Vienna Kunstschau and consequently was dismissed from the Kunstgewerbeschule. At this time, he attracted the attention of the architect Adolf Loos, who became his most vigorous supporter. In this early period, Kokoschka wrote plays that are considered among the first examples of expressionist drama.
His first solo show was held at the Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin, in 1910, followed later that year by another at the Museum Folkwang Essen. In 1910, he also began to contribute to Herwarth Walden’s periodical Der Sturm. Kokoschka concentrated on portraiture, dividing his time between Berlin and Vienna from 1910 to 1914. In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered to serve on the eastern front, where he was seriously wounded. Still recuperating in 1917, he settled in Dresden and in 1919 accepted a professorship at the Akademie there. In 1918, Paul Westheim’s comprehensive monograph on the artist was published.
Kokoschka traveled extensively during the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. In 1931, he returned to Vienna but, as a result of the Nazis’ growing power, he moved to Prague in 1935. He acquired Czechoslovak citizenship two years later. Kokoschka painted a portrait of Czechoslovakia’s president Thomas Garrigue Masaryk in 1936, and the two became friends. In 1937, the Nazis condemned his work as “degenerate art” and removed it from public view. The artist fled to England in 1938, the year of his first solo show in the United States at the Buchholz Gallery in New York. In 1947, he became a British national. Two important traveling shows of Kokoschka’s work originated in Boston and Munich in 1948 and 1950, respectively. In 1953, he settled in Villeneuve, near Geneva, and began teaching at the Internationale Sommer Akademie für Bildenden Künste, where he initiated his Schule des Sehens. Kokoschka’s collected writings were published in 1956, and around this time he became involved in stage design. In 1962, he was honored with a retrospective at the Tate Gallery, London. Kokoschka died February 22, 1980, in Montreux, Switzerland.