Art History Weirdness: Oskar Kokoschka and his Alma Mahler Doll
posted: December 2, 2014
For the past several years I have been teaching Art History at Champlain College in Burlington, VT. In the course of research for my lectures I ran into this little ditty, and although it isn't exactly about illustration, I thought the art centric denizens of Drawger would enjoy it.
In 1912 the great Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka started a passionate, tempestuous affair with Alma Mahler. Alma was coming off a bad stretch. Her first husband, Gustov Mahler, 19 years her senior and Director of the Vienna Opera, had died in 1911.Three years earlier, their daughter, Maria had died of scarlett fever. In the wake of Maria's death, Alma had begun an affair with the Bauhaus architect, Walter Gropius. But with Gustov's death, Alma quit Gropius.
Enter Oskar. It has been said that when Kokoschka wasn't making love to her, he was painting her. Kokoschka painted and drew Alma compulsively and is the subject of his best known painting, Bride of the Wind. It is considered his crowning achievement and a tribute to his love for her.
Oskar Kokoschka - Bride of the Wind - 1914-15
Kokoschka's intense possessiveness wore on Alma, and the emotional vicissitudes of the relationship tired them both. Alma eventually rejected Kokoschka after a 3 year relationship, explaining that she was afraid of being too overcome with passion.
Kokoschka was devastated and in 1915 volunteered for service as an Austrian cavalryman in WWI. In the same year he was seriously wounded, shell shocked on two occasions. While recovering in a hospital in Dresden, doctors decided he was mentally unstable.
Here's where it gets weird.
In 1918, upon his release and recovery, Kokoschka hires a Munich dollmaker, Hermine Moos, to fashion a life-sized doll of Alma Mahler. Kokoschka provided Moos with many detailed drawings and a life sized oil sketch.On August 20, I9I8 he wrote to Moos: "Yesterday I sent a life-size drawing of my beloved and I ask you to copy this most carefully and to transform it into reality. Pay special attention to the dimensions of the head and neck, to the ribcage, the rump and the limbs. And take to heart the contours of body, e.g., the line of the neck to the back, the curve of the belly. Please permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where layers of fat or muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of skin. For the first layer (inside) please use fine, curly horsehair; you must buy an old sofa or something similar; have the horsehair disinfected. Then, over that, a layer of pouches stuffed with down, cottonwool for the seat and breasts. The point of all this for me is an experience which I must be able to embrace!" In December Kokoschka eagerly demanded of Hermine Moos: "Can the mouth be opened? Are there teeth and a tongue inside? I hope."
The packing-case arrived. Kokoschka writes: "In a state of feverish anticipation, like Orpheus calling Eurydice back from the Underworld, I freed the effigy of Alma Mahler from its packing. As I lifted it into the light of day, the image of her I had preserved in my memory stirred into life. "He got his servant to spread rumors about the doll, to give the public impression that she was a real woman: "for example, that he' had hired a horse and carriage to take her out on sunny days, and rented a box for her at the Opera in order to show her off"
Alma Mahler doll with Hermine Moos (?)
Kokoschka was ultimately disappointed with the result, a clumsy construction of fabric and wood wool. He complained that the shag carpet-like skin was not life-like enough. Despite the doll's shortcomings, she turned out to be a compliant substitute companion and muse. The live Alma Mahler long gone, Kokoschka started a series of paintings of the doll.
Oskar Kokoschka - Woman in blue - 1919
Oskar Kokoschka - Self Portrait with Doll - 1920-21
Kokoschka drew and painted the doll in many poses, many of them sexually suggestive. (See painting above.) More than 80 pen and ink drawings survive
After several moths, despite Kokoschka's effort, expense and energy, he decided to dispense with the fetish. "I engaged a chamber orchestra from the Opera. The musicians, in formal dress, played in the garden, seated in a Baroque fountain whose waters cooled the warm evening air. A Venetian courtesan, famed for her beauty and wearing a very low-necked dress, insisted on seeing the Silent Woman face to face, supposing her to be a rival. She must have felt like a cat trying to catch a butterfly through a window-pane; she simply could not understand. Reserl paraded the doll as if at a fashion show; the courtesan asked whether I slept with the doll, and whether it looked like anyone I had been in love with... In the course of the Party the doll lost its head and was doused in red wine. We were all drunk."
The next day, a Police patrol happened to glance through the gates, and seeing what was apparently the body of a naked woman covered with blood, they burst into the house suspecting some crime of passion. And for that matter, that's what it was... because in that night I had killed Alma... In the grey morning light the refuse collectors removed Kokoschka’s dream of Eurydice's return.
2013 Wall Calendar
posted: January 4, 2013
I realize I'm a little behind the eight ball with this post and just about everyone already has their new calendars up for the new year, but Andrews McMeel has come out with a calendar of my word paintings. So this is the first time in 30 years that I won't be sending out my own calendar. I hate to break the string, but it made no sense this year. They are being sold on Amazon and at your local bookstore.
For the past several decades, I have spent the week between Christmas and New Years, a time usually fallow for assigments, busy getting my calendars out the door, rubber stamping, writing personal notes, stuffing envelopes and applying stamps. Not this year. Instead I have been up to my ears in Renaissance art history. I accepted an adjunct teaching position at Champlain College in Burlington and will be teaching art history two mornings a week. I've always had a passion for art history, so this is a logical step for me. I've had about three weeks to prepare for the first class. I am simultaniously terrified and excited. Art history from the Renaissance to Present through the eyes of a humorous illustrator! Outta be fun.
May - Andrews McMeel was nice enough to continue my tradition of highlighting the 4th of May.
Symbolism in Jan Van Eyck's Double Portrait of Giovanni Arnfolini and his Wife anyone?
posted: November 15, 2012
In the late 70's, my 3 best friends (who happened to be my band) and I took a hint from The Beatles and The Beach Boys and plunked down our $75 to learn Transcendental Meditation. At that time it was very difficult to lay off beer and doobs for a two week period so we could go into our first session with the required clear heads. But we made the sacrifice and learned how to meditate.
In the ensuing years I meditated on and off depending on the need and the time constraints of family and career. Over the past several years, however, the kids are clearing out, and in an effort to keep the creative fires burning brightly I have worked meditation into my daily routine. I get to my studio early and do computer foolishness for about an hour while having my morning coffee. That done, I turn everything off and sit quietly for 20-25 minutes. I then have my oj and draw for an hour in my sketchbooks. I have found that meditation has made my daily drawing more focused and measured. By clearing my mind, often the good stuff comes in. Sometimes it doesn't, but that's ok. I have been drawing in my sketchbooks long enough to understand that there are cycles. Sometimes it's happening and sometimes it's not. The important thing is to keep doing it because you never know when lightning will strike in the form of a killer idea. I don't mean to proselytize here. I have no illusions of world peace or the ability to levitate. I just know that it works for me.
Lately while meditating ( when I was supposed to be purging my thoughts) I have found myself thinking about how to graphically represent what meditation feels like and what it looks like behind closed eyes. I started making small thumbnails in my sketchbooks exploring these ideas. Then I started painting watercolors of those thoughts. All, of course, with an eye on the extremely lucrative counter culture market!
Raptus - This title is ripped from one of my favorite Marsden Hartley paintings which hangs in the Currier Museum in Manchester, NH.
Good For What Ails You - Of course there are some that will argue that the accordion is the quickest way to Nirvana.
posted: October 18, 2012
Thoughts and observations from my daily sketchbook sessions for your entertainment.
The Wolf Kahn Studio building, one of three painting studio buildings at the center. This used to be the town gymnasium. The center court logo is still evident in the center hallway.
As I mentioned in my last post, several weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be asked back to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT for Vermont Week, that brings together over 60 Vermont visual artists and writers for a week of intensive work. Each participant is given a modest bedroom with a shared bath and a spacious studio. Large and airy with pristine white walls, alot of light and very high ceilings, the studios are a pleasure to work in. Meals are eaten communally and the food is terrific featuring a fresh, localvore salad bar and artisanal bread. I will be working this week off at the gym for months to come..
I attended this week last year and didn't quite know what to expect going in. I finished about a dozen small watercolors and several small easel sized acrylics. Afterwards, I was kicking myself for not pushing myself out of my comfort zone and more importantly not taking advantage of the big space. So this year I brought along a large roll of canvas that I had bought several years ago (luckily primed, or I would have spent the first day house painting with gesso), a limited palette of liquid acrylics and some big ass brushes. This time I was going to paint BIG. Rather than having a hair dryer going all the time to dry washes on the big paintings, I always had a watercolor going and bounced back and forth between the two.
Just prior to my departure, I did some drawings in my sketchbook that I was very excited about. My plan was to do some paintings along these lines. Naturally, my plan morphed as I went along. I tried a number of different directions and generally was pleased with the results. Upon arriving back at my home studio, I rearranged things so that I could continue working on a larger scale. Trying to keep the mojo working.
So what's this got to do with illustration? I've always believed that personal work fuels the commercial work. I'm constantly learning things through my personal work that finds it's way into my illustration work. And as an illustrator who spends alot of time solo in the studio, the comraderie of this week went along way toward recharging my batteries. This was a wonderfully talented group of artists and writers, alot of whom I can now call friends.
The Mill Building contains the kitchen and dining room as well as the offices upstairs and the lounge downstairs. Also downstairs is an extensive art library that is for the use of residents.
White dude in a white room.
Here are several sketchbook pages that loosely informed some of the paintings I did at the Center.
Big Chief - Acrylic on Canvas - 66" × 48"
Pomp and Circumstance - Acrylic on Canvas - 64" × 34"
Etiquette - Acrylic on Canvas - 32" × 42"
Lazing Grace - Acrylic on Canvas - 30" × 42"
Cloud Treaty - Watercolor and and Mixed Media - 12.75" × 8.75"
Opposing Philosophies - Watercolor and Mixed Media - 12.75" × 8.75"
Catch - Watercolor and Mixed Media - 13" × 8.75"
Big Step - Watercolor and Mixed Media - 12.75" × 8.75"
Decision - Watercolor and Mixed Media - 12.75" × 8.75 "
Looking a little rough at week's end. I'd like to thank Zoe Barracano, Dona Mara and Scott J. Morgan for letting me use some of their photos.
Happy May 4th!
posted: May 4, 2012
Happy May 4th Everyone. A faux holiday if there ever was one. It's been a while since I posted something, so I thought I share some sketchbook drawings that I've been posting every now and then on Facebook.
Today I head back to the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT for a week of intensive painting. Last year during my session there, I never left my comfort zone and finished 13 watercolors and a few easel sized acylics. This year I'm throwing caution to the wind and working very BIG. I'm bringing a large roll of canvas that I'm going to cut up and tack on the wall. I'll have 4 - 6 going at the same time and I plan on working fast, which is very different than the way I usually work. I am psyched and simitaneously terrified. I have no idea how this will play out. We shall see.
One of Two
Two of Two
Hoist the Funny Stick
posted: January 26, 2012
Hoist the Funny Stick
I’ll let you in on a little secret. What I really aspire to is that when I die, one of my paintings will turn up on Antiques Roadshow and the expert will explain that Hal Mayforth was a humorous illustrator who appeared in many publications during the late 20th century and the early 21st century, but upon his death, his paintings have become extremely popular with collectors. This example at auction would be expected, conservatively to go for 50k. Hey, one can dream can’t one? Anyway, here are 350k worth of watercolors.
Burning Off the Weekend Fog - this painting inspired the print I featured in my last post.
Stacking Celestial Bodies
30/30 Print Auction
posted: January 12, 2012
My finished print. Registration was a bit difficult and minor discrepancies were touched up with watercolor.
A couple of months ago I was invited to participate in a print show/ auction that would commemorate the 30th anniversary of Flynn Center for Performing Arts and Burlington City Arts for the benefit of both organizations scholarship programs. The idea was to have 30 different artists/celebrities create prints that would be available through a silent auction. These are two wonderful organizations, and I was honored to be invited, but it would have meant that I would have to make numerous trips to Burlington (about 50 minutes each way) to participate. Given my work schedule, I was on the fence a long time about this and finally decided that I should throw caution to the wind. It just might be good for me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.
At my first meeting with printmaker Jennifer Koch (Love her work, check it out) it was determined that I would create a woodcut, and when we looked at the image I was thinking of doing, we figured that it would be ideal for three colors. The last time I had done a woodcut was in college and I had forgotten how much fun it was. In subsequent meetings we proofed the master block and Jennifer cut a second block with a band saw for 3 color shapes. When it came to printing the color all went smoothly except for the fact that we printed on the wrong side of the block, so for the price of an extra trip to Burlington, I got 7 color block prints that were useless to the project, but provided me with some color prints to draw on. Aside from that minor glitch the rest of the project went smoothly.
The opening last Friday was packed and it was very interesting to see the what everyone else had done. To check out the other participants, click here.
Celebrity participants included Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame and former governor Madeline Kunin.
Fog One. The next four images are the backward printed color images that I went back in and drew on with pen, color pencil and watercoler.
Fog Two. It was terrific working with Jennifer and at the end of the project I gave here a choice of drawings as a gift and she chose this one.
2 New Prints Available from The Artful Home Christmas Catalogue
posted: October 29, 2011
Conversations with a Blank Page Show Photos
posted: October 27, 2011
Here are some photos of what my recent show at Lyndon State College's Quimby Gallery looks like. Thanks to Barclay Tucker for taking them and passing them along.
Each painting is accompanied by a print out of a sketchbook page that contains the genesis of the idea for the painting in it's original context
Conversations with a Blank Page
posted: October 12, 2011
A HS Math Teacher Drove Me To Art
posted: October 5, 2011
I have had a long troubled relationship with mathematics. I had my share of math teachers whose expiration dates were long past due and the result was a quickening of the pulse and hives when confronted with any problem dealing with time and distance and what would happen if Timmy left 20 minutes later than Sally but was travelling on his bike. This stuff would kill me. But it does provide for some pretty good material. Here are are a couple of personal paintings along these lines and owing from the response they've received when I've shown them, I get the feeling there is a huge untapped mathphobe market out there.
The Arthop in Burlington has become the premier art event in Vermont with over 500 artists showing at 200 venues throughout Burlington's old South End. I happened to grow up right around the corner from this, so I always look forward to this event.
This year sculptor John Brickels asked me to show my work in his gallery/studio and I jumped at the opportunity. I had met John a couple of times in passing at various art openings, but didn't know him very well. I certainly knew his work which I admired for it's sense of humor and craftsmanship. Last April during my residency at the Vermont Studio Center, in Johnson, Vt, John and his wife, painter Wendy James, happened to have a studio right across the hall from my studio we were able to hang out for an extended period of time. Getting to know John was like meeting a long lost brother. Albeit a long lost brother who is very sarcastic.
I think John's claymobiles are particularly cool. He scours EBay for old pedal car bodies and tricks them out with suspensions and hemis, all in clay. He completed the presentation of '41 Chrysler by including a bag of oregano in the open glove compartment. Nice touch. Here's what his work looks like. Check out more at his site.
New Print Available
posted: May 17, 2011
3 Cheers for Persistant Vegetation is now available at Illogator!