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Self-Portrait as a Warrior
Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886–1980)
36.5 x 31.5 x 19.5 cm (14 3/8 x 12 3/8 x 7 11/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Unfired clay painted with tempera
Not On View
Bust. Head turned right. Open mouth showing white teeth. Blue eyes, various red, blue and yellow on face and hair.
This startling self-image marks Kokoschka’s first foray into an expressionist style, as he presented his own features distorted with suffering. His skin seems peeled back to reveal nerves and raw flesh. When it was first displayed in 1909, the bust was ridiculed by most who saw it. However, Adolf Loos, an architect and critic, bought the work, recognizing young Kokoschka’s brilliant new approach, which rejected the graceful, linear forms of the popular Art Nouveau style in favor of a brutally expressive quality.
Signed on right shoulder: OK
1909 until 1933, Adolf Loos (b. 1870 - d. 1933), Vienna [see note 1]; acquired from the estate of Loos by Helene Scheu-Riesz (b. 1880 - d. 1970), Vienna and New York; 1956, still with Scheu-Riesz [see note 2]. By 1958, World House Galleries, New York; 1960, sold by World House Galleries to the MFA for $7,000. (Accession Date: September 21, 1960)
 The artist exhibited this sculpture at the second Internationale Kunstschau, Vienna (May - September, 1909), where it was purchased by the architect Adolf Loos.
 Helene Scheu-Riesz and her husband, Gustav Scheu, were friends with Adolf Loos. According to a letter from Scheu-Riesz to Friedrich Welz of the Galerie Welz, Salzburg (May 23, 1956; copy of letter kindly provided by Dr. Johann Winkler): "it came into my possession from the estate of Adolf Loos and I brought it with me when I immigrated to New York in 1937 - it is being kept by friends." While the sculpture was in Scheu-Riesz's possession, it was lent under the name of the Blanche Bonestell Gallery to the exhibitions "Kokoschka," Buchholz Gallery, New York (October 27-November 15, 1941), cat. no. 5 and "Oskar Kokoschka: A Retrospective Exhibition," Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1948, cat. no. 63. Whether the Bonestell Gallery was taking care of the bust at the time the 1956 letter was written is unknown; at this date Scheu-Riesz was offering it for sale.
The Third Reich denigrated modern art and artists like Kokoschka. The Nazi party seized what it called "degenerate art" from German museums, selling the objects for foreign currency or destroying them. To further demonstrate to the German people what type of art was unacceptable, the Nazis sponsored an exhibition called "Degenerate Art" (Entartete Kunst), which opened in Munich in 1937 and toured Germany and Austria until 1941. The show included hundreds of objects seized from German collections.
Self-Portrait as Warrior was illustrated as an example of "degenerate art" in reviews of Entartete Kunst at its Stettin and Vienna venues, in the journals Stettiner General-Anzeiger (January 24, 1939) and Die Pause (June 1939). It was also illustrated in the third edition of the exhibition catalogue. It was not actually exhibited, however; as Helene Scheu-Riesz attested, she had already brought it to the United States in 1937. Old photographs were used each time it was reproduced, indicating the Nazis could not obtain the original sculpture.
John H. and Ernestine A. Payne Fund
© 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Pro Litteris, Zurich.