Oskar Kokoschka

Knight Errant (detail). 1915. Oil on canvas. The Guggenheim Museum, New York.


The Woman Question

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka

March 14, 2017 - June 30, 2017

Recent Acquisitions

July 12, 2016 - October 7, 2016

Recent Acquisitions

July 12, 2016 - October 7, 2016

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 21, 2015 - October 16, 2015

Alternate Histories

Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

January 15, 2015 - April 11, 2015

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 15, 2014 - September 26, 2014

Recent Acquisitions

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

July 9, 2013 - September 27, 2013

Art Basel 2013

Galerie St. Etienne, Hall 2.0, Booth D11

June 13, 2013 - June 16, 2013

Face Time

Self and Identity in Expressionist Portraiture

April 9, 2013 - June 28, 2013

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

July 17, 2012 - October 13, 2012

The Lady and the Tramp

Images of Women in Austrian and German Art

October 11, 2011 - December 30, 2011

Transforming Reality

Pattern and Design in Modern and Self-Taught Art

January 15, 2008 - March 8, 2008

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 5, 2007 - September 28, 2007

Who Paid the Piper?

The Art of Patronage in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

March 8, 2007 - May 26, 2007

Fairy Tale, Myth and Fantasy

Approaches to Spirituality in Art

December 7, 2006 - February 3, 2007

More Than Coffee was Served

Café Culture in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna and Weimar Germany

September 19, 2006 - November 25, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 6, 2006 - September 8, 2006

* Coming of Age

Egon Schiele and the Modernist Culture of Youth

November 15, 2005 - January 7, 2006

Recent Acquisitions

And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market

June 7, 2005 - September 9, 2005

Every Picture Tells a Story

The Narrative Impulse in Modern and Contemporary Art

April 5, 2005 - May 27, 2005

65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part I

Austrian and German Expressionism

October 28, 2004 - January 8, 2005

Body and Soul

Expressionism and the Human Figure

October 7, 2003 - January 3, 2004

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 24, 2003 - September 12, 2003

In Search of the "Total Artwork"

Viennese Art and Design 1897–1932

April 8, 2003 - June 14, 2003

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 25, 2002 - September 20, 2002

Gustav Klimt/Egon Schiele/Oskar Kokoscha

From Art Nouveau to Expressionism

November 23, 2001 - January 5, 2002

The "Black-and-White" Show

Expressionist Graphics in Austria & Germany

September 20, 2001 - November 10, 2001

Art with an Agenda

Politics, Persuasion, Illustration and Decoration

April 10, 2001 - June 16, 2001

Recent Acquisitions (And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market)

June 20, 2000 - September 8, 2000

From Façade to Psyche

Turn-of-the-Century Portraiture in Austria & Germany

March 28, 2000 - June 10, 2000

Saved From Europe

In Commemoration of the 60th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

November 6, 1999 - January 8, 2000

Recent Acquisitions

(And a Look at Sixty Years of Art Dealing)

June 15, 1999 - September 3, 1999

Recent Acquisitions

(And Some Thoughts About Looted Art)

June 9, 1998 - September 11, 1998


Repression and Revolt in Modern Art

March 26, 1998 - May 30, 1998

Sacred & Profane

Michel Nedjar and Expressionist Primitivism

January 13, 1998 - March 14, 1998

Recent Acquisitions

A Question of Quality

June 10, 1997 - September 5, 1997

That Way Madness Lies

Expressionism and the Art of Gugging

January 14, 1997 - March 15, 1997

The Viennese Line

Art and Design Circa 1900

November 18, 1996 - January 4, 1997

Breaking All The Rules

Art in Transition

June 11, 1996 - September 6, 1996

The Fractured Form

Expressionism and the Human Body

November 15, 1995 - January 6, 1996

Recent Acquisitions

June 20, 1995 - September 8, 1995

55th Anniversary Exhibition in Memory of Otto Kallir

June 7, 1994 - September 2, 1994

Symbolism and the Austrian Avant Garde

Klimt, Schiele and their Contemporaries

November 16, 1993 - January 8, 1994

Recent Acquisitions

June 8, 1993 - September 3, 1993

The Dance of Death

Images of Mortality in German Art

January 19, 1993 - March 13, 1993

Naive Visions/Art Nouveau and Expressionism/Sue Coe: The Road to the White House

May 19, 1992 - September 4, 1992

Richard Gerstl/Oskar Kokoschka

March 17, 1992 - May 9, 1992

Viennese Graphic Design

From Secession to Expressionism

November 19, 1991 - January 11, 1992

The Expressionist Figure

September 10, 1991 - November 9, 1991

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka

Watercolors, drawings and prints

January 22, 1991 - March 2, 1991

Recent Acquisitions

June 12, 1990 - August 31, 1990

The Narrative in Art

January 23, 1990 - March 17, 1990

Galerie St. Etienne

A History in Documents and Pictures

June 20, 1989 - September 8, 1989

Fifty Years Galerie St. Etienne: An Overview

February 14, 1989 - April 1, 1989

From Art Nouveau to Expressionism

April 12, 1988 - May 27, 1988

Recent Acquisitions and Works From the Collection

April 7, 1987 - October 31, 1987

Oskar Kokoschka and His Time

November 25, 1986 - January 31, 1987

Viennese Design and Wiener Werkstätte

September 23, 1986 - November 8, 1986

Gustav Klimt/Egon Schiele/Oskar Kokoschka

Watercolors, Drawings and Prints

May 27, 1986 - September 13, 1986

Expressionist Painters

March 25, 1986 - May 10, 1986

The Art of Giving

December 3, 1985 - January 18, 1986

Expressionists on Paper

October 8, 1985 - November 23, 1985

European and American Landscapes

June 4, 1985 - September 13, 1985

Expressionist Printmaking

Aspects of its Genesis and Development

April 1, 1985 - May 24, 1985

Arnold Schoenberg's Vienna

November 13, 1984 - January 5, 1985

Early and Late

Drawings, Paintings & Prints from Academicism to Expressionism

June 1, 1983 - September 2, 1983

Aspects of Modernism

June 1, 1982 - September 3, 1982

The Human Perspective

Recent Acquisitions

March 16, 1982 - May 15, 1982

Austria's Expressionism

April 21, 1981 - May 30, 1981

The Wiener Werkstätte

November 16, 1966

25th Anniversary Exhibition

Part I

October 17, 1964

Austrian Expressionists

January 6, 1964

Group Show

October 15, 1962

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Alfred Kubin

March 14, 1961

Watercolors and Drawings by Austrian Artists from the Dial Collection

May 2, 1960

European and American Expressionists

September 22, 1959

* Oskar Kokoschka

October 28, 1958

* Oskar Kokoschka

November 29, 1954

Lovis Corinth, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele

May 27, 1953

* Oskar Kokoschka

March 30, 1949

Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele

September 15, 1945

* Oskar Kokoschka

Aspects of His Art

March 31, 1943

* Oskar Kokoschka

January 9, 1940

* Oskar Kokoschka

March 1, 1939

Austrian Art

February 1, 1939

Important Paintings

November 29, 1937

Modern Austrian Art

June 13, 1936

Anton Faistauer, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele

June 1, 1933

* Oskar Kokoschka

October 22, 1932

* Oskar Kokoschka Part II

October 13, 1924

* Oskar Kokoschka Part I

June 24, 1924


Self and Identity in Expressionist Portraiture

April 9, 2013 - June 28, 2013


Beckmann, Max

Corinth, Lovis

Dix, Otto

Grosz, George

Heckel, Erich

Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig

Klimt, Gustav

Kokoschka, Oskar

Kollwitz, Käthe

Mammen, Jeanne

Modersohn-Becker, Paula

Motesiczky, Marie-Louise

Nolde, Emil

Pechstein, Hermann Max

Schiele, Egon

Schoenberg, Arnold



From infancy onward, humans are fascinated by faces, and the European portrait tradition dates back to classical antiquity. Although the genre was temporarily eclipsed during the Middle Ages, portraiture experienced a robust revival in the Renaissance. Thereafter, portraits served as a bulwark for European and American elites, affirming their authority and providing steady employment for generations of artists. That system, however, was uprooted by industrial capitalism, which undermined both the established elites and the practice of direct artistic patronage. Beyond such socio-economic factors, the so-called portrait crisis of the early twentieth century was intensified by revolutionary changes in the biological and psychological conception of self. Addressing this identity crisis with greater fervor than modernists elsewhere, the Austrian and German Expressionists felt compelled to invent new approaches to portraiture.


In the Renaissance, the term "portrait" was not limited to depictions of human beings. A portrait (ritratto in Italian) could be a likeness of any real subject, including also animals and even places. The quasi-mechanical process of mimesis (ritrarre) was distinguished from more imaginative acts of artistic interpretation (imitare). Eschewing the former in favor of the latter, artists considered portraiture an inferior field of endeavor; lucrative, perhaps, but creativly stultifying. In practice, portraits entailed a three-way exchange among the sitter, the artist, and a putative audience. Representational accuracy had to be combined with artistic invention in such a way as to locate the sitter within an appropriate social context. Subject and artist colluded in the fabrication of a socially sanctioned identity that was routinely reinforced through the use of props such as crowns, scepters, jewels, swords, books, globes and the like. Frequently these status markers overshadowed the sitter's personality; poses were usually formal and static, emotional extremes were avoided, physical flaws elided. Portraits were artificial constructs, and yet paradoxically, their function depended on a presumed verisimilitude. The portrait was a stand-in for the living person, representing the sitter when he or she was absent. Portraits converted transience into permanence, conjuring a self that might survive even death.


The dualistic conception of portraiture expressed by the Italian verbs imitare and ritrarre reflected a deeply entrenched privileging of mind over body. In Judeo-Christian theology, humans are distinguished from animals by the possession of souls that connect them to God. And yet if, as René Descartes and others believed, the body is a mere husk in which the soul resides, how could a portrait, a representation of this outer shell, capture the being within? That was the task of a great artist, an achievement that simultaneously ennobled him and his client, separating the portrait from mimetic craft by depicting the sitter's inner essence. The practice of correlating facial features with enduring character traits, which originated with Aristotle, was eventually codified in the pseudo-science of physiognomics. Human faces were ranked on a scale, from the base to the divine, according to the degree to which they did or did not resemble the faces of animals. Such rankings were used not only idealize the ruling elite, but also, by purporting to identify inferior human types, to justify horrific extremes of racism, sexism and genocide.


By the turn of the twentieth century, the premises supporting European portrait tradition were being systematically undermined. Amidst demands for equality and a socialistic redistribution of wealth, the legitimacy of the ruling class came under increasing attack. Karl Marx averred that the self has no autonomous existence, but is merely a product of its particular socio-economic environment. Charles Darwin posited an evolutionary connection between human and animal life that implicitly questioned humankind's link to the divine. If the self was only a biological artifact, dependent on the body for its existence, then the soul could not be immortal. Sigmund Freud, by demonstrating that conscious behavior is partly shaped by unonscious drives, further challenged the notion of a cohesive, rational self. The interplay between mind and body that was intrinsic to the portrait genre had to be renegotiated.


The realization that body and mind are inextricably joined blurred the boundary that had formerly distinguished the self from the outer world. Subject and object were enmeshed in a tautological loop: the self was no more than a response to external stimuli; reality no more than a projection of transitory, subjective states. It was no longer possible to conceive of a singular reality shaped by unified cognition. The shift from a fixed to a fluid conception of identity is dramatically represented in early twentieth-century Austrian and German portraiture. Gustav Klimt's society portraits, which consist almost entirely of status-affirming surface decoration, may be considered a last, glorious flowering of the old guard. The portraits of the younger Expressionist generation, with their blank backgrounds, offer a glaring contrast. Gone, for the most part, are the props that once symbolized a sitter's social identity. We stare into the void, and the sitter stares back.


Portraiture still entailed a three-way exchange among sitter, artist and viewer, but the nature of that relationship had fundamentally altered. To explain this change, turn-of-the-century art historians developed the theory of empathy aesthetics, which held that an artist's emphatic insight into the sitter resulted in a portrait that would be comprehensible to similarly empathic viewers. Theorists quibbled as to whether the empathic response was innate (that is, an unconscious reaction to primal visual schema), learned (dependent on the specific education and life experiences of the artist and viewer) or some combination of the two. Realistic verisimilitude scarcely mattered in the new order of things. Indeed, it could be hard to tell whether a portrait represented the sitter at all, or was purely a product of the artist's subjective interpretation. As Oscar Wilde observed, "Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist."


Both literally and figuratively, the importance of the sitter dwindled in the modern era. Portraiture was no longer the prerogative of kings and industrial potentates. Photography made it possible for anyone to have his or her likeness taken. Additionally, the advent of commercial art galleries disrupted the direct contact between artist and patron that had been instrumental in fostering portrait commissions. Artists were encouraged to paint other subjects that would appeal to a broader general audience. In Austria (where commerical dealers would not become a force until after World War I), Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele still sometimes had trouble collecting payment from dissatisfied portrait clients, but on the whole the modern art market shifted financial control away from the sitter. Now it was the artist who conferred honor on his chosen subject, rather than vice versa. As Arnold Schoenberg (who made an abortive stab at an artistic career around 1910) wrote a prospective dealer, "You must not tell people that they will like my pictures. You must make them realize that they have to like my paintings, is much more interesting to have one's portrait done by a musician of my repuation than to be painted by some mere practictioner of painting whose name will be forgotten in twenty years." Having one's portrait done by a member of the nascent avant-garde confirmed for posterity that one had actually sat in the presence of a genius.


While the Austrian and German Expressionists continued to receive portrait commissions, most of them also created, gratis, paintings and drawings of people who appealed to them visually. Images of family and friends provide intimate glimpses into an artist's personal life, but other unpaid portraits can be surprisingly generic. Titles such as "girl," "man" or "woman" proliferate in the Expressionists' oeuvres; depictions of sitters not considered important enough to name and now entirely forgotten. In these works, the artis's vision totally eclipses the identity of the subject. Some sitters--especially in the politically volatile Weimar years--were selected because they represented distinct social types. Such a subject is Otto Dix's Old Woman at the Café, a once-proud member of the bourgeoisie who has evidently lost everything to postwar inflation and now sits forlornly with her little cup of coffee. Käthe Kollwitz made a lifelong specialty of downtrodden women: exploited workers, bereft widows and the like. Whereas commissioned portraits require a degree of accommodation between sitter and artist, this mutuality is lacking in most unpaid likenesses, and one wonders whether such works can really be classified as portraits.


To the extent that the Expressionists did engage with portraiture in the more traditional sense, they were forced to confront the evanescent nature of identity. One approach was to ape the photographer's art by depicting momentary states. Expressionist portraits were consequently more emotionally charged, less static, than their predecessors. Kokoschka, for example, executed a series of drawings, later published as lithographs, that depict the trancelike reverie experienced by women listening to music. Schiele, who could draw with photographic speed, created likenesses that replicate the spontaneity of snapshots. Towards the end of his brief life, as his reputation soared, he received a spate of portrait commissions. Studies indicate that Schiele approached these assignments much like the academic portraitists of yore, focusing on the face and hands as the symbolic windows on the soul. He even sometimes added supplemental props. In his drawings of Franz Martin Haberditzl, director of the Austrian National Gallery, the sitter is shown leafing through a sheaf of drawings, which in the completed painting are revealed to be works by Schiele himself. The props here represent an implicit compact of mutual support between the artist and his subject. Schiele's late portraits are among his more conventional works, but they reflect the circumstances current at the time of execution rather than making any claim to eternal validity.


A true portrait, like Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray, would have to change along with its subject. Many Expressionists addressed this issue by producing multiple self-portraits over the course of their careers. Schiele, who was scarcely more than a boy at the time of his creative breakthrough in 1910, examined his identity piecemeal, trying on various personalities that may or may not add up to a complete human being. For artists such as Lovis Corinth and Kollwitz, who lived into old age, the accretion of identity was cumulative, the outcome fully evident only at the end. Corinth's self-portraits, which early on exude professional pride and success, gradually dissolve under the pressures of physical frailty and postwar social collapse. Kollwitz, on the other hand, evidences a tight-lipped stoicism that barely changes over the course of half a century. In their poignant melding of sadness and strength, her self-portraits are almost indistinguishable from her portraits of other women.


Female artists like Kollwitz brought unique insights to their portraits, especially of women. The portrait genre, after all, had been created by and for men. Traditionally, depictions of women were more decorative and colorful than male portraits, because women were believed not to have unique selves. Expressionist portraiture entailed a more probing relationship between sitter and artist, but to the extent that most artists remained male, female subjects still often got short shrift. Women artists were less inclined than their male colleagues to objectify women. Sexual allure was to them not a source of voyeuristic pleasure, but an aspect of femininity worthy of deeper analysis. Kollwitz tended to see feminine identity largely in terms of motherhood, while artists such as Jeanne Mammen, Paula Modersohn-Backer and Marie-Louise Motesiczky explored their gender as a source both of sexual power and vulnerability.


Of the female painters active during the Expressionist period, few were as consistently engaged with portraiture as Motesiczky. Her portraits are curious admixtures of the avant-garde and the traditional. The sitters seldom paid, but instead were usually selected by the artist on the basis of their emotional appeal. Motesiczky was therefore able to give her imagination free reign, yet the resulting portraits retain a degree of verisimilitude sufficient to convince the viewer that they are credible likenesses. Motesiczky's crowning achievement is a series of paintings depicting her mother, Henriette, an artistocratic Austrian Jew who fled to England with her daughter after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. Throughout the series, Henriette appears well fed (in fact obese), her wide eyes tracing a trajectory from privilege to loss without ever forfeiting an essential guilelessness. Like the extended self-portrait sequences created by other Expressionists, Motesiczky's mother paintings depict the self as a process of becoming, rather than a stable entity.


In his recent book, The Age of Insight, the Nobel-Prize-winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel compares Expressionism to the practice, developed simultaneously at the Vienna School of Medicine, of correlating autopsy results with clinical examination. "Only by going below surface appearances," he writes, "can we find reality." Nonetheless, however much the Expressionists attempted to go below the surface, the inner being was elusive. The dissolution of the traditional boundary between body and mind had left the self adrift, muddling objective observation with subjective sensation. A portrait's three-way amalgamation of the sitter's physical appearance, the artist's personal interpretation and the viewer's subjective response remained ambiguous. It is only today, through recent advances in neuroscience, that the mind/body split is finally coming to be healed. As Kandel observes, we are starting to "understand the mind in biological terms." It remains to be seen how this new, biological self, which the Expressionists sensed but could not fully grasp, will influence portraiture in the future.