Friday, December 28, 2007

Mourning for the Innocent

Oskar Kokoschka (Born March 1, 1886 Pöchlarn, Austria; Died February 22, 1980, Montreux, Switzerland)
Knight Errant (Der Irrende ritter),
Oil on canvas, 35 1/4 x 70 7/8 inches.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

An abortion is not a usual subject for a painting or work of art.

For obvious reasons, it is not the sort of subject which might be the subject of a commission or if painted would attracted many buyers.

Kokoschka`s 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 1913-14, Kokoschka had an affair in Vienna with Alma Mahler. She was the widow of the famous composer.

Unwed, she was carrying on two love affairs simultaneously: with Kokoschka and another. She became pregnant. She had an abortion.

The agonised knight errant of the painting is to this day read as an expression of the artist’s pain over the death of an unborn child and the crumbling of his relationship with the fascinating, and quite unrepentant, Alma Mahler.

The central figure is a self-portrait of Kokoschka, in the armour of a medieval knight. He is lost, in a stormy landscape.

The bird-man has been interpreted either as the figure of death or another self-portrait.

The sphinx-woman has been seen as a stand-in for Mahler.

A funereal sky reflects Kokoschka’s spiritual discomfort.