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Details & Cataloguing

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Oskar Kokoschka
1886 - 1980
RITTER, TOD UND ENGEL II (KNIGHT, DEATH AND ANGEL II)
signed OK (lower left)
oil on canvas
60.3 by 76.2cm., 23 3/4 by 30 in.
Painted in 1911.
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Provenance

Joseph Siller, Vienna (acquired by 1918)
Alfred Spitzer, Vienna
Benno B. Thorsch, Germany and California (acquired by 23rd February 1938)
Bernward Thorsch (by descent from the above by 1962)
Thence by descent to the present owner

Exhibited

Dresden, Künstlervereinigung Dresden, Sommer-Ausstellung, 1921, no. 129, titled as Ritter, Tod und Teufel
Dresden, Galerie Ernst Arnold, Oskar Kokoschka Gemälde, Handzeichnungen, Aquarelle, Drucke, 1925, no. 11, titled as Ritter, Tod und Engel and dated 1910
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Internationale Kunstausstellung, 1925, no. 224
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Austellung Oskar Kokoschka, 1927, no. 20, titled as Ritter, Tod und Engel and dated 1910
Vienna, Neue Galerie, Meister, Österreichischer Malerei im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, 1930
London, The Tate Gallery, Kokoschka, 1962, no. 10 (titled as Knight, Death and Angel I and dated circa 1909)
New York, Malborough Gallery, Oskar Kokoschka, 1966, no. 5, illustrated in the catalogue (titled as Knight, Death and Angel I)
New York, Marlborough Gallery & London, Marlborough Fine Art, Oskar Kokoschka, Memorial Exhibition, 1981, no. 3, illustrated in the catalogue (titled as Knight, Death and Angel I and dated 1910)

Literature

Paul Westheim, 'Oskar Kokoschka' in Das Kunstblatt, Weimar, 1917, p. 319
Paul Westheim, Oskar Kokoschka, Das Werk Kokoschkas in 62 Abbildungen, Berlin, 1918, p. 53
Edith Hoffmann, Kokoschka, Life and Work, London, 1947, no. 35, p. 294
Otto Benesch, 'Ein werk über Oskar Kokoschka' in Wiener Zeitung, Vienna, 1951, no. 50
Hans Maria Wingler, Oskar Kokoschka, Das Werk des Malers, Salzburg, 1956, no. 22 (titled as Knight, Death and Angel I)
Ludwig Goldschneider & Oskar Kokoschka, Kokoschka, Greenwich, 1963, no. 8, illustrated p. 75
Oskar Kokoschka, Handzeichnungen 1906-1969, New York, 1971, p. 125
Johann Winkler & Katharina Erling, Oskar Kokoschka: Die Gemälde 1906-1929, Salzburg, 1995, no. 72, illustrated in colour p. 43

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1911, Ritter, Tod und Engel is a rare example of Oskar Kokoschka’s powerful early work. From the outset of his career, the human figure was the primary focus of Kokoschka’s œuvre. Celebrated for his ability to penetrate the mind and soul of his sitters and to capture their very essence, Kokoschka stood out amongst the Austrian Expressionist artists for the psychological intensity imbued within his compositions.

In terms of subject matter, the present work belongs to a small group of historical paintings executed in quick succession during the second half of 1911 which are no less emotionally charged. The artist’s title references Albrecht Dürer’s celebrated etching Ritter, Tod und Teufel, an iconic image which rejoices in the virtues of the knighthood when faced with evil and death. Kokoschka’s version is more optimistic in outlook than Dürer’s depiction, however, since he replaces the devil with an angel, who has descended out of the dark sky to illuminate the landscape around the knight and point out the way.

In fact, Kokoschka painted two canvases of the same title Ritter, Tod und Engel (Knight, Death and Angel). It is thought that the first canvas was painted in 1910, before the artist’s departure from Vienna for Switzerland and Berlin and that the second version - the present work - was executed a year later, upon his return. As the artist himself explained: ‘The first version of this picture was, I believe, my first religious composition. And I painted it for my mother. That is, I painted it twice - the first version was sold, because I needed the money, and then I painted it again from memory’ (Oskar Kokoschka quoted in Oskar Kokoschka (exhibition catalogue), Marlborough Gallery, New York, 1966, n.p.). With regard to the present work, which was painted upon the artist’s return from Berlin, he remembered: ‘It was a rare pleasure, after the turmoil of Berlin…to work in such tranquillity. No longer confused by external activity, the eye could turn inward […] illuminating my inner self. Feeling it would be presumptuous to have a model, I turned to small compositions such as Knight, Death and Angel’ (Oskar Kokoschka quoted in Oskar Kokoschka, Memorial Exhibition (exhibition catalogue), Marlborough Gallery, New York & Marlborough Fine Art, London, 1981, n.p.).

Kokoschka’s engagement with the work of the Old Masters is also revealed in his handling of paint in the present work, as Richard Calvocoressi describes: ‘The figures in Kokoschka’s small religious pictures probably derive from El Greco, their pale, drawn faces, elongated bodies and stylized hand gestures evoking a mystical dimension in keeping with the subject matter’ (Richard Calvocoressi, ‘Vienna and Berlin 1908-16’ in Oskar Kokoschka 1886-1980 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, pp. 55).

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