press release

Gustav Klimt called him ‘the greatest talent of the younger generation’. This autumn Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is showing the work of Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), the master painter who has inspired generations of artists. This major retrospective brings together Kokoschka’s confrontational portraits more than half a century after his work was last exhibited in the Netherlands.

In 1950 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen was the first Dutch museum to purchase a painting by Oskar Kokoschka, ‘The Mandrill’ of 1926. This autumn 150 paintings and drawings from private collections and major museums such as MoMA and Tate will be assembled in Rotterdam. In eight themes the exhibition offers a personal perspective of the painter around the period of the First and Second World War. From a serie of children's portraits, portraits of the Viennese elite to politically charged allegories. The exhibition begins with Kokoschka’s earliest portraits and his discovery by the famous modernist architect Adolf Loos in 1908. The exhibition ends with his last self-portrait (1971/1972). With the title ‘Time, Gentlemen Please’, the announcement for final orders in British pubs, Kokoschka prefigures his own death. Man and the world

Kokoschka began to explore an individual path even during his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. In the period dominated by Art Nouveau with an emphasis on ornament, he focussed on people. Kokoschka’s portraits show us how he viewed mankind and the world. In a television interview in 1966, Kokoschka said that he was interested in a ‘person’s aura in space’. He thought it was important to express the sitter’s psyche. He often made his models look older, as if he could see into the future. The result was that many clients did not buy their unflattering portraits. Kokoschka’s works are characterised by bold colours and dynamic brushwork. This is typical of Expressionism, a movement typified by exaggerated forms, bright colours and distorted reality. The animal portraits

In addition to numerous portraits of people, the exhibition also features more than twenty paintings of animals. Kokoschka was fascinated by animals, in which he often detected human characteristics. He painted the ‘Mandrill’ in London Zoo, outside public opening times. In the evening he was admitted to the zoo by zoologist Julian Huxley, brother of Aldous Huxley, the author of ‘Brave New World’. Rather than depict the monkey in his small cage with thick bars, Kokoschka shows it in its natural environment. Adolf Loos and friends

Kokoschka’s success was largely due to the modernist architect Adolf Loos. His circle of friends in Vienna’s intellectual and cultural elite became Kokoschka’s biggest clients. These included the writer Karl Kraus and the art historian Karl Maria Swoboda. Music also played an import ant part in Kokoschka’s life, and through Loos he became acquainted with the composers Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern and Egon Wellesz. Kokoschka and love

At the age of twenty-six Kokoschka met the love of his life: Alma Mahler, the widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. She was a great source of inspiration during their three-year relationship. In addition to writing 400 love letters, he painted a portrait of Alma in the style of the Mona Lisa, three double portraits - one of which is included in the exhibition - and numerous prints and drawings. Soon after their relationship ended, Alma married the architect and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. It took Kokoschka a long time to recover from the break-up; he even had a doll made in Alma’s likeness.

‘Oskar Kokoschka - Portraits of People and Animals’ has been curated by guest curator is Beatrice von Bormann.

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Oskar Kokoschka -
Portraits of People and Animals

Beatrice von Bormann