Lot 30
  • 30

Oskar Kokoschka

1,600,000 - 2,000,000 GBP
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  • Oskar Kokoschka
  • Orpheus und Eurydike (Orpheus and Eurydice)
  • signed OK (upper left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 70.5 by 50.8cm.
  • 27 3/4 by 20in.


Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired from the artist)

Hugo Simon, Berlin (acquired on 30th October 1917)

Galerie Paul Cassirer, Berlin (acquired on 1st February 1927)

Neue Galerie (Otto Nirenstein), Vienna (acquired on 16th March 1927)

Galerie St. Etienne (Otto Kallir ( Nirenstein)), New York (acquired by 1939)

Kende Galleries, New York (acquired from the above circa 1951)

Himan Brown, New York (sold: Sotheby's, New York, 2nd November 2010, lot 61)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Berlin, Galerie Paul Cassirer, Oskar Kokoschka, 1918, no. 28

Wiesbaden, Nassauischer Kunstverein, Neues Museum, 30 deutsche Künstler aus unserer Zeit, 1930, no. 69

Vienna, Neue Galerie, Österreichische und deutsche Gegenwartskunst, 1931

Vienna, Hagenbund, Moderne Österreichische Malerei, 1931-32, no. 67

Vienna, Neue Galerie, Oskar Kokoschka, Gemälde, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen, 1932

Vienna, Neue Galerie, Meisterwerke moderner Österreichischer Malerei, 1933

Prague, Galerie Hugo Feigl, Oskar Kokoschka, 1933-34, no. 5, illustrated in the catalogue

Salzburg, Kunsthandlung Friedrich Welz, Werke von Oskar Kokoschka, Hans Pilhs und Anton Steinhart, 1935

Bern, Kunsthalle, Österreichische Kunst im 20. Jahrhundert, 1937, no. 84 (titled Phliemon und Baucis)

Paris, Musée du Jeu de Paume des Tuileries, Exposition d'art autrichien, 1937, no. 533

New York, Galerie St. Etienne & Buchholz Gallery, Oskar Kokoschka, 1940, no. 7

New York, Buchholz Gallery, Kokoschka, 1941, no. 13

New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Oskar Kokoschka, 1943

New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Oskar Kokoschka, 1949

New York, The Bayer Gallery, Oskar Kokoschka, 1959, no. 9

New York, Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, Oskar Kokoschka, 1966, no. 20, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, The Gallery of Modern Art, Dealer's Choice, 1968

New York, Marlborough Gallery, Oskar Kokoschka. Memorial Exhibition, 1981, no. 14, illustrated in the catalogue (as dating from 1917-18)

Vienna, Kunstforum Länderbank Wien, Oskar Kokoschka, 1991, no. 33, illustrated in colour in the catalogue

New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Richard Gerstl - Oskar Kokoschka, 1992, no. 48, illustrated in the catalogue

Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Klimt, Kokoschka e Schiele, Dall'Art Nouveau all'Espressionismo, 2001-02


Carl Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1926, illustrated p. 456 (titled Mann und Frau)

Edith Hoffmann, Kokoschka: Life and Work, London, 1947, no. 122 (as dating from 1919)

Hans Maria Wingler, Oskar Kokoschka. The Work of the Painter, Salzburg, 1958, no. 117, illustrated pl. 48; illustrated p. 307

Kokoschka: Orpheus und Eurydike (playbill for the first performance), Atelier-Theater am Naschmarkt, Vienna & Salzburg, 1960-61, illustrated 

Guiseppe Gatt, Oskar Kokoschka, Florence, 1972, illustrated pl. 19

Rupert Feuchtmüller, Kunst in Österreich, Vienna, 1973, vol. 2, mentioned p. 240

José María Blázquez, 'Temas del mundo clásico en la pintura de Kokoschka y Braque', in Miscelanea de arte, Madrid, 1982, mentioned p. 269

Henry I. Schvey, Oskar Kokoschka. The Painter as Playwright, Detroit, 1982, pp. 109-110, illustrated pl. 48

Ingried Brugger, '"Wesen mit Wesen streitend". Die Dresdner Werkgruppe 1916-1923', in Oskar Kokoschka, 1991, mentioned p. 24

Johann Winkler & Katharina Erling, Oskar Kokoschka, Die Gemälde, 1906-1929, Salzburg, 1995, no. 127, illustrated in colour p. 76

Catalogue Note

Among the Austrian Expressionist artists, Kokoschka was the master of searing emotion and psychological intensity. The title of the present work relates to the Greek myth of Orpheus, the demi-god musician, who journeyed to the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice, only to have her taken away from him when they were on the very brink of freedom. The tragedy of this love story had particular resonance for the artist, still deeply obsessed and mourning the end of his love affair with Alma Mahler, and was evidently much on his mind during this period. During the final months of the war while he was convalescing from injuries sustained on the frontline, Kokoschka began writing a theatrical adaptation of the Orpheus myth (fig. 2) that was autobiographically-inspired: ‘My play Orpheus and Eurydice grew out of the repeated hallucinations I experienced in Camp at Vladimir Volhynskiy. I wrote it down from memory afterwards [...]. At this time (in Dresden) I was writing a play 'Orpheus' which I had thought out in the Russian military hospital in memory of the woman, to whom I used to send mimosas every day, when she was in Nice. [...] as for what she whispered to me then and what I asked her - let Orpheus and Eurydice up there on the stage reveal it to everyone. Word for word I committed it to paper from memory, in those days in Dresden’ (O. Kokoschka, quoted in Oskar Kokoschka. Memorial Exhibition (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., n.p.).

Kokoschka's work on the present picture began in 1917 in Dresden while he was writing that text, and the expressive stylisation here perfectly captures the dramatic tensions of his subject. While the identity of the male model is unknown, the model for Eurydice is most likely Käthe Richter, who also posed for Liebespaar mit Katze (fig. 1), now in the collection of the Kunsthaus, Zurich. Both paintings display a particularly vigorous application of paint and use of rich impasto which reflect the emotional turmoil of this difficult period in the artist’s life. Discussing the works from this period Richard Calvocoressi notes this change, writing: ‘The trend towards greater naturalism discernible in the portraits of 1911-14 is now reversed. Paint is worked into a thick impasto by means of writhing, organic brushstrokes, so that at certain points the forms appear to loosen and even dissolve altogether’ (R. Calvocoressi in Oskar Kokoschka (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1986-87, p. 96).

This shift towards a newly expressive modernity was undoubtedly influenced by the work of Kokoschka’s 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, 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' (R. Calvocoressi, Kokoschka. Paintings, London, 1992, p. 96). That radiance is visible in the eloquent colouration of the present work, which exemplifies Kokoschka’s refined and moving treatment of the human condition.