Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, Pöchlarn, Austria 1886 - 1980 Villeneuve, Switzerland)
Sposalizio (Double Portrait), 1912
Signed, lower left in red oil paint: O K
Oil on canvas
41 7/16 x 25 in. (105 x 63.5 cm)
Elisabeth Lotte Franzos Bequest, 1958
Painted in Vienna in the spring of 1912, this double portrait is one of a series of innovative portraits in which Kokoschka attempted to express the interior states of his subjects, rather than realistically depict their physical exteriors. An important manifestation of German Expressionism, the painting was exhibited in the International Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne in May of that year, along with five other works by the artist.1
The title Sposalizio--Italian for "engagement"--connects the painting to a long tradition of similarly titled representations of the betrothal of Mary and Joseph, and thus elevates the subjects, a Viennese Jewish couple engaged to be married, within the context of a biblical allusion.
Although the identity of the sitters is not certain, they have most often been identified as the writer and critic Emil Alphonse Rheinhardt and his second wife Elsa Romanic.2 Kokoschka's portrait drawing of Rheinhardt, inscribed "OK Meinem lieben Freund A. Rheinhardt Vienna 29 May 1912" and thus drawn after the painting was completed, supports this identification,3 as does a drawing of the woman.4 Kokoschka was not able to remember the names of the sitters in 1958,5 and the testimony of his first biographer Edith Hoffmann is similarly inconclusive.6
The Oberlin painting has also been confused with another double portrait (executed in December of the same year) of Alma Mahler and Kokoschka, which the artist mentions in a letter to Alma: "Isn't it strange, that I have not been able to work for such a long time and that it is another ‘Sposalizio' but this time with us in it."7 In contrast to the first Sposalizio, in which the groom stands behind the bride with his hands on her shoulders, Kokoschka depicts himself side by side with Alma, hands clasped and bodies turned toward each other, while both their faces confront the viewer.
The second Sposalizio, or self portrait with Alma, marks the beginning of a new phase in Kokoschka's work, marked by heightened color as well as richer nuances of individual shades.8 In contrast, the Oberlin Sposalizio is one of the opaque portraits of 1911-12, an earlier group characterized by dark colors and heavy impasto.
Kokoschka's early work is dominated by portraits in which the sitters are removed from background, floor space, and descriptive details, and are instead depicted radiating an "aura." This "immaterial field of tension" sometimes detaches itself or retreats from the sitter and constitutes an abstract, yet personal sphere that determines the mood of the image.9 Kokoschka also deliberately drained from his sitters' countenances any reference to who they are or what they do in the external world, often inverting the gaze of the sitter introspectively.
In contrast with the effete gestures of the fin-de-siècle portraits of Gustav Klimt, Kokoschka used the hands of his sitters expressively, often investing them with an energy and power lacking in the faces. This tension between hands and faces is reinforced by the immateriality of the figures, whose contours are interrupted by or disappear into the surrounding space, and by the agitated surface of the painting where the thinly painted, transparent ground emerges through the heavily impasted opaque brushstrokes.10 The overall effect in Kokoschka's portraits is a new focus on nervous, hesitating in-between states of being, those moments when it is unclear which psychological impulses are in control.
The Sposalizio can also be interpreted as a reflection of the transient state of engagement, as opposed to the permanence of marriage vows, and of the larger political instability of pre-war Vienna.
Work (C) 1998 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pro Litteris, Zurich
Born 1 March 1886 at Pöchlarn on the Danube, Kokoschka spent his childhood and youth mainly in Vienna, where he studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) from 1905 to 1909, joined the Wiener Werkstätte, and wrote and illustrated fairy tales, poetry, and theatrical works. In 1909 he turned to "psychological" portrait painting and in 1910 moved to Berlin, where he collaborated with Herwarth Walden on the Expressionist periodical Der Sturm, produced lithographs and posters, and had his first solo exhibition at Paul Cassirer's gallery. Upon his return to Vienna in 1911, he continued to paint portraits, although his work was vilified by the conservative press.
In the spring of 1912, he began a two-year affair with Alma Mahler, widow of the composer Gustav Mahler and the inspiration for three double portraits by the artist. Kokoschka was seriously injured in World War I, while serving in the Austrian army. In 1917, after recovery, Kokoschka moved to Dresden, where he taught until 1924, and worked on large portrait drawings, watercolors, and paintings, as well as landscapes and biblical scenes.
From 1924 until 1931, thanks to a contract with Cassirer, he was able to travel widely throughout Europe and North Africa. In 1933 financial difficulties and health problems forced him to return to Vienna. He later moved to Prague, where he met his future wife Olda Palkovská. The two moved to England in 1939, and to Villeneuve on Lake Geneva in 1953. There Kokoschka died on 22 February 1980.
Throughout his life Kokoschka was an outspoken proponent of the avant garde as an artist, writer, and political activist. Eight of his works were shown at Hitler's Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich in 1937, and over eight hundred of his works in German public collections were confiscated by the National Socialists.
Hoffmann, Edith. Kokoschka, Life and Work. London, 1947.
Wingler, Hans Maria, ed. Oskar Kokoschka, Schriften 1907-1955. Munich, 1956.
Wingler, Hans Maria. Oskar Kokoschka: Das Werk des Malers. Salzburg, 1956. Translated by Frank S. C. Budgen et al. New York, 1958.
Kokoschka, Oskar. Mein Leben. Munich, 1971.
Wingler, Hans Maria. Oskar Kokoschka: Das druckgraphische Werk. 2 vols. Salzburg, 1975-81.
Whitford, Frank. Oskar Kokoschka: A Life. London, 1986.
Calvocoressi, Richard, ed. Oskar Kokoschka 1886-1980. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1986.
Schroder, Klaus Albrecht, and Johann Winkler. Oskar Kokoschka. Exh. cat., Kunstforum Länderbank, Vienna, 1991.
Winkler, Johann, and Katharina Erling. Oskar Kokoschka: Die Gemälde 1906-1929. Salzburg, 1995.
Collection Lotte Franzos, Vienna and Washington, D.C., purchased from the artist by 1916 11
Bequeathed by Lotte Franzos in 1958
Cologne, Städtischen Ausstellungschalle, 1912. Internationale Kunstausstellung des Sonderbundes westdeuscher Kunstfreunde und Kunstler. 25 May - 29 September. Cat. no. 359.
Dresden, Galerie Ernst Arnold, 1925. Oskar Kokoschka: Gemälde, Handzeichnungen, Aquarelle, Drucke. 18 January - late February. Cat. no. 10 (as dated 1910).
The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1927. Ostenrijksche Schilderijen en Kunstnijverheid 1900-1927. 15 October - 13 November. Cat. no. 28.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, 1927. Oskar Kokoschka. 6 June - 3 July. Cat. pl. 8.
Vienna, Österreichisches Museum fur Kunst und Industrie, 1937. Oskar Kokoschka. May - June. Cat. no. 8 (as dated 1913).
The Arts Club of Chicago, 1941. Oskar Kokoschka. 3 - 27 January. Cat. no. 2.
New York, Buchholz Gallery, 1941. Kokoschka. 27 October - 15 November. Cat. no. l0 (as dated 1912).
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1948. Displaced Paintings: Refugees from Nazi Germany. 9 April - 9 May. Cat. no. 24.
Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art, 1948. Oskar Kokoschka: A Retrospective Exhibition. 16 October - 14 November (also shown at Washington, D.C., The Phillips Memorial Gallery; St. Louis, City Art Museum; and San Francisco, M. H. de Young Memorial Museum). Cat. no. 20.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, 1958. Oskar Kokoschka. 14 March - 11 May (also shown at Vienna, Kunstlerhaus; and at The Hague, Haags Gemeentemuseum). Cat. no. 28.
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Arts, 1959. Signposts of Twentieth Century Art. 28 October - 7 December. Cat. p. 16.
Columbus, Ohio, Gallery of Fine Arts, 1961. German Expressionism. 10 February - 9 March. Cat. no. 42.
London, Tate Gallery, 1962. Kokoschka. 14 September - 11 November. Cat. no. 34.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, 1966. Oskar Kokoschka. 1 June - 14 July. Cat. no. 24.
Karlsruhe, Badischer Kunstverein, 1966. Oskar Kokoschka. Das Porträt. 21 August - 20 November. Cat. no. 18.
Vienna, Österreichische Galerie im Belvedere, 1971. Oskar Kokoschka zum 85. Geburtstag. 27 April - 16 June. Cat. no. 23, p. 45.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, 1971. Oskar Kokoschka, Bildnisse von 1907-1970. 3 July - 26 September. Cat. p. 23, pl. 13.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1975-76. Extended loan for exhibition with permanent collection. 9 April 1975 - 22 December 1976. No cat.
Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum, 1977. German and Austrian Expressionism. 23 October - 3 December. Cat. no. 58.
New York, Galerie St. Etienne, 1981. Austria's Expressionism. 21 April - 30 May. Checklist no. 31.
Stefan, Paul. Oskar Kokoschka, Dramen und Bilder. Leipzig, 1913, ill.
Hoffmann, Edith. Kokoschka, Life and Work. London, 1947, pp. 113, 300, no. 71, pl. 16.
Plaut, J. S. Oskar Kokoschka. New York, 1948, pp. 15, 23, 82.
Wingler, Hans Maria. Oskar Kokoschka. Salzburg, 1956, p. 301, no. 67. Translation by Frank S. C. Budgen, et al. New York, 1958, p. 301, no. 67.
J., R. [Recha Jaszi]. "The E. Lotte Franzos Bequest." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 15, no. 3 (Spring 1958), pp. 116-18, 127, ill.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of European and American Paintings and Sculpture in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, pp. 95 & 96, fig. 123.
Hodin, Joseph P. Oskar Kokoschka: Sein Leben - Seine Zeit. Mainz, 1958, p. 181.
Leshko, Jaroslaw. "Oskar Kokoschka: Paintings 1907-1915." Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1977, pp. 177-78, pl. 89.
Eckel, Walter. "Rekonstruktion eines tapferen Lebens." In Süddeustsche Zeitung (Munich), 24/25 June 1989, p. xiv.
Winkler, Johann, and Katharina Erling. Oskar Kokoschka: Die Gemälde 1906-1929. Salzburg, 1995, pp. 46-47, cat. no. 79.
Kokoschka reused a previously painted canvas for Sposalizio; much of the relief structure comes from this lower paint layer. The paint of the present composition is applied in thin layers and modeled wet-in-wet. In 1957 the original canvas was lined onto a medium-weight canvas with a wax-resin adhesive, mounted on an ICA-type spring stretcher, and the reverse coated with an aluminum paint. The painting was unvarnished prior to 1957. The painting is in good condition, with only small, minor areas of inpainting and loss at the edges; the varnish has greyed, however, altering the tonality of the composition.
1. The International Exhibition of the Sonderbund held in Cologne in 1912 was an early and polemical "survey" of German Expressionist art. The exhibition included Kokoschka and Egon Schiele of Vienna, all the German artists of Die Brücke, and Kandinsky and Jawlensky of Der Blaue Reiter, along with French Fauve and Cubist contemporaries. See "Europäische Kunst 1912: Zum 50. Jahrestag der Austellung des "Sonderbundes westdeuscher Kunstfreunde und Künstler" in Köln (exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 1962).
2. Johann Winkler and Katharina Erling, Oskar Kokoschka. Die Gemälde 1906-1929 (Salzburg, 1995), pp. 46-47, cat. no. 79. Born in Vienna on 9 April 1889, Rheinhardt was a critic and biographer of Eleonora Duse and Eugénie and Joséphine de Beauharnais [Bonaparte]. He died in a concentration camp in 1945. On Rheinhardt, see Walter Eckel, "Rekonstruktion eines tapferen Lebens," in Suddeustsche Zeitung (Munich), 24/25 June 1989, p. xiv.
3. Ernest Rathenau, ed., Der Zeichner, Kokoschka (New York, 1961), vol. 1, pl. 49. Sposalizio was already included in the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne by 25 May 1912.
4. The portrait drawing of Elsa Romanic, which is dated "19. Mai 1912," is in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna; see Ernest Rathenau, ed., Der Zeichner, Kokoschka (New York, 1961), vol. 5, pl. 19. Also in Hans Maria Wingler, Oskar Kokoschka: The Work of the Painter, trans. Frank S. C. Budgen et al. (New York, 1958), p. 301, pl. 67; Hans Maria Wingler, O. Kokoschka, Handzeichnungen (Berlin, 1935), pl. 45; and Paul Stefan, Oskar Kokoschka, Dramen und Bilder (Leipzig, 1913), unnumbered.
5. "The title was my own because the young couple of lovers were supposed to consider marriage in the future. The name Rheinhardt has nothing whatsoever to do with the famous theater man [Max Reinhardt] from Berlin of whom I also made portraits, two lithographs, and who produced some of my plays in the Kammerspiele, Berlin, 1920. The real names of the young people (Viennese) I have forgotten and only remember having heard long afterwards that the man had been gassed and the girl died from starvation during the Russian occupation of a part of Austria from where she could not get out. You see a very sad fate befell my sitters as, unfortunately most of my friends of that epoque." From a handwritten letter dated 4 May 1958 from Kokoschka to Chloe Hamilton in response to her query about the identity of the sitters (museum files).
6. "Kokoschka never mentioned the name of the woman portrayed in Sposalizio to me and I always assumed that it was Mrs. Franzos, since there is a certain resemblance with her portrait....It certainly is not Mrs. Swoboda, whose husband was Dvorak's assistant and who is shown in the series of lithographs entitled Konzert. I am also absolutely certain that the sitter is not Alma Mahler, because she does not resemble her at all and also Kokoschka barely knew Alma when Sposalizio was painted." From a letter to Recha Jaszi dated 19 January 1958 (museum files); translated by D. Hamburger.
7. Letter from Kokoschka to Alma Mahler, late February 1913, published in Olda Kokoschka and Heinz Spielmann, eds., Oskar Kokoschka, Briefe I, 1905-1919, (Dusseldorf, 1984); here translated by D. Hamburger. Even Alma Mahler must have been confused about the two Sposalizios; she apparently had forgotten the existence of the first one, as indicated in a letter from Erika Tietze to Chloe Hamilton dated 22 October 1957 (museum files): "In order to answer your question in the most reliable way, I called Mrs. Alma Mahler over the phone. She well remembered the picture and tells me that she even has a letter written by O.K. about this painting and why he had called it Sposalizio. It is again meant as a self portrait (not Rheinhardt) and the woman was meant to be her. She always hated the painting because there was not the least resemblance with her and she found the painted girl just awful...."
8. This period intensifies in 1913 during his trip to Italy with Alma, and culminates in his double portrait Windsbraut (The Bride of the Wind) of 1914.
9. See Christoph Asendorf, "Wankender Raum, Das Frühwerk 1907-1916," in Klaus Albrecht Schroder and Johann Winkler, eds., Oskar Kokoschka (Vienna, 1991), pp. 11-18.
10. See Christoph Asendorf, "Wankender Raum, Das Frühwerk 1907-1916," in Klaus Albrecht Schroder and Johann Winkler, eds., Oskar Kokoschka (Vienna, 1991), pp. 11-18.
11. Lotte Franzos (1881-1957) was born Elisabeth Lotte Rapp in Erfurt, Germany. Married to Emil Franzos, a lawyer, she maintained a salon in Vienna where artists, writers, and politicians gathered, and she supported young artists, such as Kokoschka, who painted her portrait in 1909. After her husband's death, she emigrated to Washington, D.C. Her bequest to the AMAM included several German paintings, drawings, and prints (including two of her own self-portraits from about 1912). See R. J. [Recha Jaszi], "The E. Lotte Franzos Bequest," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 15, no. 3 (Spring 1958), pp. 116-18, 127, ill.
In an undated letter (in the museum files) Kokoschka wrote to Recha Jaszi in Oberlin: "She [Franzos] had meant a great deal in my life. And she remained loyal to my work, very different from many other people in my youth. I will always be grateful to her beyond death and especially that she left Sposalizio to the Oberlin museum.
For evidence that Lotte Franzos owned the painting by 1916, see the letter from Oskar Kokoschka to Herwarth Walden, 21 February 1916, Vienna: "Frau Dr. Franzos...hat ein gutes Frauenbild [her portrait] und 'Sposalizio' und Zeichnungen" (Oskar Kokoschka Briefe, eds., Heinz Spielmann and Olda Kokoshka, vol. 1 [Düsseldorf, 1986]), p. 234).