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The view is from the artist's house in Polperro, Cornwall, where he lived between 1939 and 1940. Two related oils depict a similar view of the harbour, but the addition here of a crab lends a particular air of menace. Kokoschka said that the swimmer (a self-portrait) represented Czechoslovakia, and the crab Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister of the day, who 'would only have to put out one claw to save him from drowning, but remains aloof.' Kokoschka remarked that paintings had the habit of turning into political allegories if brought back to London unfinished, as in this case. This work with its transition from landscape to allegory proclaims Kokoschka's committed style of the early 1940s.

August 2004