Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

Oskar Kokoschka und die alten Meister : theoretische und künstlerische Auseinandersetzung mit der europäischen Kunsttradition

Windisch, Annette ; Bonnefoit, Régine (Dir.) ; Griener, Pascal (Codir.) ; Holz, Keith (Codir.) ; Häusler, Ruth (Codir.)

Thèse de doctorat : Université de Neuchâtel, 2013.

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    The subject of this thesis is Oskar Kokoschka’s interest in the old masters and his perception of the heritage of European art tradition. As many artists of his generation, Kokoschka studied the works of the old masters of European art throughout his life. While this aspect of his career is not unknown, the extent and the significance of his interest have not been studied in detail before. They are discussed here both on a theoretical level and within the framework of his own artistic work. To examine Kokoschka’s different approaches of art history and the old masters, a large number of letters and manuscripts, his vast library and an extensive collection of postcards preserved in his estate as well as his published writings on art have been analysed. His sketches and numerous letters documenting his journeys and his visits to museums and exhibitions provide important additional sources. The thesis highlights artists and time periods that represent the main aspects of Kokoschka’s interest in art. It is shown how he perceived certain oeuvres by the old masters and how he approached questions about art theory. In his essays he expresses his opinions about theoretical problems, about the European art tradition and the role of art and artists in society. The essays also reveal that Kokoschka’s thinking about the art of the past was closely linked to his view of contemporary art and his own position within the contemporary art scene. In addition to the analysis of the aforementioned sources, Kokoschka’s oeuvre has been studied closely to comprehend how the interaction with the old masters’ works has marked his own artistic creation. In many cases it is possible to identify concrete sources that have inspired his works. With great liberty he used certain elements, single motifs, compositional models or a specific iconography, transferring them into new contexts, giving them a new meaning and adapting them to his own style and ideas. The thesis shows that Kokoschka’s aesthetic and theoretical references to the old masters are an essential part of his artistic work. From his writings it becomes evident how important a role they played for his perception of his artistic identity. He used them as a means to reposition himself. A strict opponent of abstract art, predominant in the years after World War II, Kokoschka tried to justify his own, figurative, work by referring to the European art tradition. He saw himself as the last representative of this tradition and thus as a direct descendent of the great old masters.