Oskar Kokoschka: Die Gemalde 1906-1929.


Salzburg: Verlag Galerie Welz, 1995. 228 pp.; 219 color ills., 36 b/w.

Adolf Loos, the great modernist architect and crucial first patron of the young Kokoschka, inscribed the portrait the artist had drawn of him in 1916 with the witty apercu, "This picture is a better likeness of me than I am of myself."(1) Most of the sitters for the early portraits in oils, many of which Loos himself had recruited, could not muster the same dispassionateness. Where Loos perceived expressionistic veracity, they saw psychologically unsettling images of selves better left unrevealed. Not surprisingly, they often refused to pay for or to accept the paintings, and thus began a pattern of neglect and dispersion that has made locating and particularly dating some of the acknowledged masterpieces of twentieth-century portraiture extremely difficult. Kokoschka's own penchant for constructing his artistic biography has only compounded the problem. We, therefore, have every reason to be thankful for this first volume of what is sure to become the definitive catalogue raisonne not only of the portraits, of course, but of all the paintings.

The second volume will cover the oils of the years 1930-76; the third and final volume will contain a comprehensive interpretive treatment of the complete oeuvre and a biography as well as concordances and indexes. Johann Winkler and Katharina Erling's work follows upon the pioneering 1947 study by Edith Hoffmann, which includes an extensive annotated list of paintings,(2) and Hans Maria Wingler's early effort at a catalogue raisonne, compiled with the artist's help and published in 1956.(3) Even on the most basic, essential level, Winkler and Erling's labors of investigation and documentation are impressive. They have been able to identify nineteen works known neither to Hoffmann nor to Wingler for these first phases of Kokoschka's career and, equally important, have provided the evidence for excluding ten other paintings. Although most of these were duplications of one kind or another, there is also one surprising case of a significant false attribution. Given Kokoschka's vituperative campaign - conducted with the help of Karl Kraus in his satirical journal Die Fackel in 1911 - to discredit Max Oppenheimer as an imitator and plagiarist, it is ironic that until now one of Oppenheimer's characteristic portraits, with the apparent approval of the aging master, had been viewed as the work of the young genius himself.(4)

The textual organization and layout of the catalogue are exemplary and approximate the high standards set by Jane Kallir's comprehensive documentation of Schiele's works.(5) The paintings are represented by individual entries comprising small, but not minuscule illustrations, dimensions and media, current location if known, provenance, commentary, corresponding catalogue numbers for Hoffmann's and Wingler's lists, exhibition history, and bibliography. This documentary core is followed by a complete list of the exhibitions in which Kokoschka's works were shown between 1908 and 1992-93; an extensive bibliography as well as detailed biographical notes for the period covered by this first volume; and indexes, which, however, are restricted to the titles of the paintings themselves except for the added category of "Self-Portraits and Self-Representations in Group Portraits."

Almost all the roughly postcard-sized illustrations are in color, and one soon realizes with a certain poignance that the black-and-white reproductions usually represent paintings that have been lost or destroyed, many of them during the Second World War. Some of Kokoschka's earliest portraits of distinguished sitters, including Karl Kraus I (the satirist), Gustav Meyrink (the noted writer of gothic fiction) and Alfred Adler (the psychoanalyst), apparently suffered this fate. Winkler and Erling have gone to great lengths to document even such disappearances and, in the process, tapped many previously unknown or underutilized sources. These include the remnants of Kokoschka's personal library, his own handwritten lists of paintings compiled twice in the 1920s, and correspondence related to major exhibitions held during the artist's lifetime, such as the first major retrospective organized by Gustav F. Hartlaub at the Mannheim Kunsthalle in 1931. In keeping with this admirable thoroughness, the provenances even note the changing locations of paintings confiscated by the officials of the Third Reich.

Among the newly discovered paintings are the artist's first six canvases...

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