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Oscar Kokoschka,(attribution), 1886-1980, the son of a fairly poor Czech goldsmith, was born in Pochlam, Austria and raised in Vienna, the great hothouse of modernism in economic, social and ethnic areas. By the time he was twenty-two he was labeled a “public terror”. He was the “enfant terrible” of Viennese Expressionism as early as 1907. He first caused an uproar at an 1908 exhibition in Vienna; he became so controversial that he fled to Berlin in 1909. His contact with German expressionists there helped deepen his art. Kokoschka had an extraordinary life which is mirrored in his art. He changed nationalities twice; he lived in practically half the capital cities of Europe and he survived two World Wars. His early drawings are related to the nervous mannered work of Klimt and Schiele. However, Kokoschka quickly came into his own, abandoning style in order to explore the inner feelings of his sitters. He painted only people who interested him and never allowed his sitters to pose. Instead, he would have them move around and would talk to them so that he could get a sense of their feelings and personalities. In 1915, although he didn’t even know how to ride a horse, he enlisted in an elite cavalry unit of the Austro-Hungarian army. Eventually, having been wounded in a lung and in the head, and suffering from shell shock, he retired to Dresden to convalesce. Not surprisingly, his art took an unexpected turn: he became a master of land- and cityscapes. At the age of sixty-two, Kokoschka was still as self-assured as ever. “Though I am no great painter”, he said, “I prefer my own pictures to any other. Art is dying; I am its oxygen. When Kokoshka is finished, true art will be finished.” Had Kokoschka stopped painting at the beginning of World War I, his place in art history would have already been secure. But he continued well into his eighties, producing an oeuvre of considerable vigor and strength. He was a skeptic but never a pessimist; he left behind a body of work that is ultimately life-affirming and optimistic. Just before World War II he fled to London. Throughout these decades Kokoschka remained the rebellious outsider. In and out of fashion, now poor, now prosperous, he pursued the role of an embattled humanist, crusading against the conformity of modern times. Kokoschka’s last years were spent in Switzerland and Austria, where he taught, painted and worked on his memoirs. In 1953, he opened a summer art school called the School of Vision in a castle overlooking Salzburg. Young artists flocked there and impassioned and tireless, he worked with two hundred students every day. Kokoschka continued to pour his thought and vision into tempestuous, vibrant paintings which he signed wih the brusque “O.K.” that became famous throughout the art world.As the longest-lived of the Austrian Expressionists, Kokoschka also had the most protracted influence on the development of modern art, which can be seen both in the Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s and the Neo-Expressionism of the ’80s. His paintings sell for up to $2,953,180 fro one of his portraits.
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