OSKAR KOKOSCHKA (1886-1990) Sitzender bärtiger Mann 16 7/8 x 12 1/8 in ( 42.7 x 30.8 cm) (Drawn in 1907)
Lot 21
OSKAR KOKOSCHKA
(1886-1990)
Sitzender bärtiger Mann 16 7/8 x 12 1/8 in ( 42.7 x 30.8 cm)
Sold for US$ 425,000 inc. premium

Impressionist and Modern Art

11 May 2016, 16:00 EDT

New York

Lot Details
PROPERTY FROM A WESTCHESTER COLLECTION
OSKAR KOKOSCHKA (1886-1990)
Sitzender bärtiger Mann
signed with initials 'OK' (lower right)
graphite and watercolor on light brown paper
16 7/8 x 12 1/8 in ( 42.7 x 30.8 cm)
Drawn in 1907

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private Collection, New York State.
    By descent from the above to the present owner.

    This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's drawings currently being prepared by Dr. Alfred Weidinger.

    Oskar Kokoschka spent the winter semester of 1907-08 at the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule (the Vienna School of Applied Arts) largely working on a series of figure drawings of children and youths which found use in his work for the Wiener Werkstätte, for decorative projects, postcards and for his children's storybook Die träumenden Knaben. In counterpoint to these supple, fairy-like figures he simultaneously made a series of drawings of an old woman and an old man, of which the present work is among the most spectacular examples (A. Weidinger and A. Strobl, Oskar Kokoschka: die Zeichnungen und Aquarelle 1897-1916, Salzburg, 2008, nos 126-193). In the latter series Kokoschka moves away from the silhouetted, frieze-like figures of the decorative works and addresses a profound realism. The sitter may be a studio model, but more likely he was a vagrant or a retired acrobat (as a looser study of the same character is traditionally titled: Der Gaukler [The travelling showman, or circus barker], 1907, Stadtmuseum Linz-Nordico, Prints and Drawings SII/11). In the present drawing Kokoschka breaks new ground, soon to be followed by Egon Schiele, his junior by four years, in using an expressive distortion to weight his drawing with feeling. The resulting work has a simplicity and an arresting honesty. Delicate touches of watercolor highlight the seated man's malnourished torso, the arms with their clotted veins, and the hands, nose and ears scrubbed raw by the elements. Kokoschka's feeling for design is simultaneously apparent in the delicate Greek key pattern formed by the shoulders and folded arms, the delicately twining strands of the beard and the confidently drawn contours. As Richard Calvocoressi has noted, 'factual likeness, though not to be ignored, was subservient to capturing the emotional mood or feel of his subject ... Certainly Kokoschka can lay claim to have painted the first existential images of alienated modern man, in which the individual is stripped of mask and pretense, or to use his own word, "opened up"' (R. Calvocoressi, 'Vienna and Berlin 1908-1916' in Oskar Kokoschka 1886-1980, exhib. cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1986, pp. 9-11).
    The excitement of the artistic and intellectual environment in Vienna at the turn of the Twentieth Century has become axiomatic. The avant-garde of Europe flocked to the city, and it was from this confluence of innovation and experiment that Kokoschka drew inspiration. The antecedents for Sitzender bärtiger Mann can be traced clearly to masters such as Auguste Rodin and Pablo Picasso, in addition to Kokoschka's mentor Gustav Klimt (who described him as 'the greatest talent of the younger generation'). Rodin's contribution had been among the most influential elements of the Ninth Secessionist Exhibition in 1901, which had included his extraordinary sculpture Celle qui fut la belle Heaulmière [She who was the helmet maker's once-beautiful wife]. Rodin was to be an influence on Kokoschka throughout his early career, and although he was only fifteen at the time of the exhibition, the influence of this revolutionary model reverberated in Vienna. The loose flesh, slumped boney shoulders and the exaggerated jag of the arms all prepare the ground for the present drawing. Equally, although Picasso was still only starting to make an impact in Paris, Kokoschka's focus on despair and introspection, and the very modern interiority of Sitzender bärtiger Mann, is searching for the same effect as the (slightly) older artist's drawings, paintings and prints of beggars, blind men and saltimbanques exemplified by Picasso's great etching later titled Le repas frugal.

    Kokoschka's Vienna was the battleground over which were fought some of the most brutal skirmishes between the forces of Reaction and Avant Garde. The eventual triumph of Modernism shaped the cultural landscape of Europe for the rest of the century. The spiritual heirs to the Holy Roman Empire and the weight of 600 years of Habsburg rule struggled to contain the empire's twelve nationalities, six official languages and five religions. In the capital, court protocol derived from Phillip II's Madrid was enforced within a gunshot of the Kaffeehaus Central where most evenings Leon Trotsky, lately escaped from the exile after the failed revolution of 1905, played chess. Heirs to ancient dynasties and to the freshly minted Jewish banking houses alternately seduced and ostracized one another. In concert halls the music of Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schönberg broke free from the monumentality of Establishment favorite Richard Wagner. Meanwhile in the Fine Arts the official Academy, represented by the historicism of artists such as Hans Mackart, was losing ground to the raw individuality of the rising generation. In 1897 Gustav Klimt and a group of likeminded artists broke away from this established order to form the Viennese Secession, although such were the quicksilver shifts among these pioneers that Klimt himself ceded from the group in 1905. Sigmund Freud, meanwhile, observed the effects of these roiling currents, and the effervescent society that was drawn along by them, in his consulting rooms at Berggasse 19. Into this combustible atmosphere Oskar Kokoschka burst like a grenade. His anarchic artistic freedom was threatening to rigid Viennese society. In response to the horror with which the public received his play Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murder, Hope of Women) in 1909 he shaved his head, leading to his reputation as an Oberwildling [wild child] or Spieserschreck [terror of the bourgeoisie]. On being shown his work at the Hagenbund exhibition in 1911, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand exclaimed "Someone should take this fellow out and break his legs".

    Like Klimt, Kokoschka came from a family of artisan-craftsmen of moderate means, and studied first at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts rather than receiving a more traditional artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts. This background enabled him, as it had to Klimt, to move freely between decorative and painterly work in a manner that was anathema to the Academy. Among the clamoring voices in Vienna he was able to draw as fruitfully on the influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's designs at the Secession exhibitions as on gallery shows of van Gogh (1906) and Gauguin ( March 1907). His earliest mature works, such as Sitzender bärtiger Mann, show how naturally he subsumed these influences. Kokoschka found outlets for his talents designing for the Wiener Werkstätte, the commercial enterprise set up largely by artists, designers and architects from the Secession, and by illustrating children's books, but the force of his illustrations and the strength of his new-found Expressionism was often at odds with the apparent subject matter. His plays, greeted with such horror by the Viennese, came to be seen as the foundation of German Expressionist theater.
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