Oskar Kokoschka

Ambassador Ivan Maisky


Not on display

Oskar Kokoschka 1886–1980
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1019 × 768 mm
frame: 1097 × 842 × 61 mm
Presented by Dr Henry Dreyfuss 1943

Display caption

Like most of the paintings completed during Kokoschka’s stay in London, this portrait of Soviet Ambassador Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky has strong political significance. Maisky was closely involved in drawing up the Anglo-Soviet Alliance, after the breakdown of the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1941. Behind him is a statue of Lenin, and a globe turned to display the USSR. Kokoschka later recalled that the Ambassador was reluctant to talk, and hid his face in The Times during many of the 30 sittings.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Catalogue entry

Oskar Kokoschka 1886-1980

N05432 Ambassador Ivan Maisky 1942-3

Inscribed 'OK' b.r. and 'Mr. Maisky | London 1942 | for Red Cross unit Stalingrad | spend [sic] by OK' on back of canvas
Oil on canvas, 40 1/8 x 30 1/4 (102 x 77)
Presented by Dr Henry Dreyfus 1943
Prov: Dr Henry Dreyfus, London (purchased from the artist) 1943
Exh: War Artists' Exhibition, National Gallery, London, 1943 (no catalogue); Oskar Kokoschka. aus seinen Schaffen 1907-1950, Haus der Kunst, Munich, September-October 1950 (74); Kunsthalle, Hamburg, December 1950-January 1951 (74); Städtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim, January 1951 (74); Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, February-March 1951 (38); Oskar Kokoschka, Haus der Kunst, Munich, March-May 1958 (115, repr.); Künstlerhaus, Vienna, May-June 1958 (119, repr.); Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, July-October 1958 (69, repr.); Oskar Kokoschka in England and Scotland, Marlborough Fine Art, London, November-December 1960 (18); Oskar Kokoschka: Das Portrait, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, August-November 1966 (54, repr.); Oskar Kokoschka zum 85. Geburtstag, Österreichische Galerie, Vienna, April-June 1971 (65, repr.)
Lit: Jan Gordon, 'London Commentary' in Studio, CXXVI, 1943, p.196 and repr.; Edith Hoffmann, Kokoschka: Life and Work (London 1947), No.300, pp.238-9, 336, repr. in colour facing p.238; Michelangelo Masciotta, Kokoschka (Florence 1949), No.11, pp.42-3, 49, detail repr. pl.47; Hans Maria Wingler, Oskar Kokoschka: The Work of the Painter (Salzburg-London 1958), No.328, p.329, repr. p.329 and pl.105; Edward Beddington-Behrens, Look Back, Look Forward (London 1963), pp.165-6; J.P. Hodin, Oskar Kokoschka: The Artist and his Time (London 1966), pp.110, 119-20; Oskar Kokoschka, My Life (London 1974), pp.34, 160

A portrait of Ivan Maisky (1884-1975), who was Soviet Ambassador in London from 1932 to 1943.

One of Kokoschka's English friends, Edward Beddington-Behrens, persuaded Maisky to sit for this portrait as a way of raising funds for the Russian Red Cross. Kokoschka, though himself very short of money at the time, intended from the beginning to donate his picture for this purpose and succeeded in raising £1,000 for it which was given to the Joint Committee for Soviet Art for their Stalingrad Hospital Fund. In a letter accompanying his gift 'he expressed his hope that it would help to heal the wounds not only of the heroic defenders of Stalingrad but of the wounded attackers as well, and that thus he desired to contribute something towards stemming the wave of hate with which the world was overflowing while the picture was painted.' (Hoffmann, op. cit., p.239).

The portrait was painted in Maisky's study at the Embassy. As Kokoschka recalled later (in My Life, p.34), the Ambassador read The Times throughout the sittings. 'I could not get him to talk: perhaps he regarded a portrait as some new form of brainwashing. Finally, after hours of sitting, I suggested he reverse the paper behind which he was hiding, for I had finished reading the part turned towards me. At length he became a little more talkative, and told me about his student days in Vienna and Munich.'

On the left, behind the figure, is a statue of Lenin with upraised arm and on the right a globe turned to show the USSR.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.393-4, reproduced p.393

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