Sunday, June 20, 2010

Kokoschka's War Paintings

Oskar Kokoschka, Anschluß-Alicia in Wonderland, 1942

Deemed a degenerate by the Nazis, Kokoschka fled Austria in 1934 for Prague. In 1938, when the Czechs began to mobilize for the expected invasion of the Wehrmacht, he fled to the United Kingdom and remained there during the war. The above painting is a harsh satire against the British appeasement policy (Treaty of Munich) which facilitated Hitler's annexion (Anschluß) of Czechoslovakia.

Oskar Kokoschka, Marianne-Maquis, 1942

1942 was a year of deadlock during the Second World War. Whilst the Soviet Union was battling the Nazis in the East, there were repeated calls for British and American governments to launch a Second Front in Western Europe. In Marianne-Maquis, Kokoschka vents his criticism of the allies’ delay by showing British war leaders Winston Churchill and General Montgomery drinking tea in the Café de Paris in Soho. The central figure is Marianne, the traditional personification of France, now linked to the Maquis, the French Resistance.

Oskar Kokoschka, Loreley, 1941

The title Loreley refers to Heinrich Heine's famous poem about a mythical Rhine maiden, who lured sailors to their death. Kokoschka explained that his painting mocks British claims to maritime supremacy:

Britannia no longer rules the waves; inaction has lasted too long; an octopus swims away with a trident, the emblem of marine power. Queen Victoria, who built up the British fleet into a dominant position, rides a shark and stuffs white, brown and black sailors into its mouth. Only the frog on her hand refuses to accept the same fate: it represents Ireland, where there are no reptiles except frogs.

It is interesting to compare Kokoschka's Loreley to another shipwreck piece which - painted by Max Beckmann almost thirty years earlier - can be seen as a vision of the approaching First World War:

Max Beckmann, Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

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