At Bonhams’ Impressionist & Modern Art Auction in New York on May 12, Seated Old Man set a record for a work on paper by the artist when it sold for $425,000, over four times its high estimate.Oskar Kokoschka is considered one of the emblematic figures of the Expressionist movement in Central European art, although he hated to be called an Expressionist. This highly expressive portrait dates from the earliest part of Kokoschka’s long career, which spanned the “Vienna 1900” era through the post-Pop ’70s (he died in 1980 at the age of 93). Executed in graphite and watercolor on a piece of light brown paper measuring16 7/8 x 12 1/8 inches and signed “OK” in the lower right, it shows the old man, his hands, cheeks, and nose reddened by exposure to the elements, seemingly beaten down by a life of hard work but still possessed of reserves of strength and endurance. Kokoschka made this drawing in 1907, when he was 21, during a time when he was making his living by painting fans and postcards for the Wiener Werkstätte. The drawing style here somewhat resembles that of Egon Schiele, who at the time was only 17 and had not yet shown his work publicly. Kokoschka himself had not had a show yet; the next year, in 1908, he exhibited at the Vienna Kunstschau, and his works were so severely blasted by the critics that Kokoschka was expelled from art school.
But he was going places anyway. The mastery evident in Seated Old Man led to Kokoschka becoming an in-demand portraitist, and the influential architect Adolf Loos became his patron. Also in 1908, he started his career as a writer with a book of poems, The Dreaming Boys, illustrated with eight color lithographs. Soon Kokoschka, a multiple threat on the cultural scene, would also become a successful Expressionist playwright.
Oskar Kokoschka, Sitzender bärtiger Mann (Seated Old Man), 1907
Offered at: Bonhams, New York, May 12, 2016
Estimated at: $70,000-100,000
Sold for: $425,000