VIENNA.- There has long been a need for an exhibition of the late works of Oskar Kokoschka and a corresponding new positioning. The Albertinas show pays tribute to this important creative period, exhibiting 40 paintings and some 160 watercolours, drawings and graphic prints. More than half of the objects on view come from the holdings of the Albertina, whose collection of some 1200 of Kokoschkas works is one of the worlds largest.
Self-assured and free from the influence of contemporary tendencies, the cosmopolitan Kokoschka finally developed his own totally unique style from the 1930s onward (in 1936 he was 50 years old). The way in which Kokoschka dealt with colours and subjects then became increasingly confident; his sophisticated colouring created the distinctive moods of his pictorial spaces. This was true no matter whether he was working with oils, watercolours or coloured pencils.
Whereas in his early creative years Kokoschkas works emanated from his own personal experiences, beginning with his exile in Prague in 1934 his orientation shifted more and more towards the outside world. The exhibition follows the unsettled life of the artist, which became a veritable odyssey through the war-torn Europe of the 20th century. In the years from 1933 to 1938, along with his avant-garde, Dadaist and Expressionist colleagues, Kokoschka was branded a degenerate artist and various works of his were included in almost all of the Schandausstellungen (exhibitions intended to inspire disgust).
After his flight to England in 1938, Kokoschka produced a number of poignant paintings related to current war developments. As a painter, he responded with bitter parables to the dreadful events of those years. At least from that time on, his political views became an integral part of his life and oeuvre, as a number of striking works bear witness (The Frogs, 1968).
Like portraits, Kokoschkas cityscapes portray the different temperaments, atmospheres, world views and characters of Prague, London, Florence, Rome, Salzburg, Berlin and Fribourg. The paintings are accompanied by diary-like sketchbooks, which he always carried with him.
Figure groups and allegories, which express the bonds between characters joined by fate (Cupid and Psyche, 1950−1955), are another important subject. And, recalling his own stormy relationship with Alma Mahler, Kokoschka also cast a humorous look at himself as a Rejected Lover (1966).
Kokoschka confidently defines himself as an heir to a European heritage and in his paintings, drawings, graphic prints and portfolios, addresses topics from world literature (Odyssey , 1964−1966) and theatre (Raimund cycle, 1959/60). Music, which played a significant role in his life, is also transformed into shimmering filigrees of impastoed colour compositions (Morning and Evening, 1966−1976) or, as in the portrait drawings of Jenny Abel playing the violin (1973), seems to resonate in the picture.
The last pictures that Kokoschka painted in his 80s deal with questions about life and death. Examples are the paintings Time, Gentlemen please (1971/72) and Ecce Homines (1972). They constitute a moving finale for the creative work of this world-class Austrian artist.