Oskar Kokoschka's Zwei Mädchen is a monumental example of the vibrantly expressive style the artist used during his crucial years in Dresden after the First World War. Following his service as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army and the end of his relationship with Alma Mahler there was a shift in his style. After his move to Dresden Kokoschka expressed his emotive subjects in a dazzlingly rich palette (fig. 1). He painted images of women and children, such as the present work, which are 'double-figure compositions with sensual and violent overtones, suggesting that pathos and brooding introspection were still important elements in Kokoschka's work' (R. Calvocoressi, op. cit., p. 13). In 1921, the year he started the present work, the artist wrote to his parents: 'I am in love with a hundred and one different things, fantasies and people, and finding no fixed point anywhere except in my pictures, at least one of which will, before the year is out, become as joyous and illuminating as almost anything one could imagine, unless one starts to use rockets to paint with' (quoted in Oskar Kokoschka 1889-1980 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1986, p. 345).
In 1919 Kokoschka was appointed to a professorship at the Dresden Academy, which afforded him the material comforts to devote himself to his art. The renewed vigour with which he approached the paintings of this period is apparent in his expressive handling of colour, which according to Hans M. Wingler was of the greatest importance to the artist: 'All the time Kokoschka was in Dresden he was haunted by the idea of brightening his painting, of cultivating and cherishing the material beauty of the pigment [...]. Around 1922-1923, the practice used almost continually since 1916 of mixing milk of figs with his colours gave to the texture of his pictures the consistency and appearance of a layer of asphalt suddenly solidified in its flow. Whole streams of colour spread over the picture surface, suggesting at times with their brightness an untended garden full of autumn flowers' (op. cit., p. 50).
Kokoschka was undoubtedly aware of the work that had been produced by his German contemporaries, most likely through his pre-war association with Herwarth Walden, whose Der Sturm gallery in Berlin was one of the leading exhibitors of contemporary art. Discussing the impact of the German Expressionist aesthetic upon the artist's work, Richard Calvocoressi writes: 'In terms of colour they relate to German Expressionism, for instance Nolde and some of the artists of the Brücke. The composition is now disposed in irregularly shaped smears and patches of pure unmixed colour - usually green and the primaries, especially red - which are not divided by contour lines but which abut one another directly. The effect is of a dazzling radiance akin to stained glass' (ibid., p. 96).
Zwei Mädchen was formerly owned by the Wolff-Kniže family who had a remarkable collection of Impressionist and Modern art. The family tailoring firm had employed Adolf Loos to design the interior of their shops in Vienna and Paris. Loos also completed the celebrated Steiner House for them in 1909, and it was through Loos that Fritz Wolff-Kniže was introduced to Oskar Kokoschka. They became firm friends and together they travelled to London in 1925 where Fritz 'wanted to open a branch of his exclusive men's tailoring business in London, where members of society were still expected to maintain some style in their dress' (O. Kokoschka, My Life, New York 1974, p. 128). The Wolff-Kniže collection comprised many masterworks by Chagall, Kandinsky and Schiele, as well as 15 oils by Kokoschka and numerous works on paper. Peter A. Knize recalls that 'Kokoschka visited [his] mother's apartment in New York; looking at his paintings with childlike amazement, he concluded that they were among his best works' (P. A. Knize in Oskar Kokoschka: Early Portraits from Vienna and Berlin 1909-1914 (exhibition catalogue), Neue Galerie, New York, 2002, p. 69).
Fig. 1, Oskar Kokoschka, Die Macht der Musik, 1920, oil on canvas, Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale