Oskar Kokoschka’s printed oeuvre, which encompasses over five hundred works, is a key treasure in the collections of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg that has not been on display in many years. The exhibition presents a generous selection from the ensemble, tracing an arc from his controversial early work across the portraits of his Dresden years to his late oeuvre, which speaks to his admiration for Greek art and culture, and embedding the various groups of works in their historical contexts.
Oskar Kokoschka (Pöchlarn, AT, 1886–Montreux, CH, 1980) is regarded as a leading exponent of Austrian Expressionism, rivaled in importance only by Egon Schiele. His work bears the mark of the social and political upheavals of his time. The show opens with his creations for the Wiener Werkstätte. His play Murderer, the Hope of Women caused a scandal when it was performed during the 1909 International Art Exhibition in Vienna. Many of the works in which Kokoschka translated the experiences of his stormy affair with Alma Mahler into art reflect the anxiety that men in turn-of-the-century Vienna felt in the face of the nascent women’s movement.
After the separation from Alma Mahler, Kokoschka volunteered for military service. Shocked by what he witnessed and wounded in battle, he became a pacifist. The color lithograph Das Prinzip (The Principle, 1918) illustrates that it is sometimes but a step from fraternity to fratricide. When the National Socialists seized power and vilified his art as “degenerate,” he escaped to England. Like so many Austrian artists, Kokoschka did not return to his native country after the war, choosing to settle in Switzerland instead. The images of Soviet tanks crushing the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 led him to create the print L’Enfant de Bethléem, also known as the Madonna in the Street Battle. In lithographic cycles on themes from classical mythology, the late Kokoschka paid tribute to the legacy of antiquity, which, he believed, was a vital source of ethical as much as aesthetic guidance.