Oskar Kokoschka



Not on display

Oskar Kokoschka 1886–1980
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 635 × 762 mm
frame: 765 × 892 × 68 mm
Presented by Mrs Olda Kokoschka, the artist's widow, in honour of the directorship of Sir Alan Bowness 1988

Display caption

The title Loreley refers to 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’.

Gallery label, July 2008

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Technique and condition

The painting is executed in oil paint on canvas prepared by the London colourmen Reeves & Sons of an open weave type, and is tacked to a four member stretcher. The ground layer is light grey in colour. Initial paint applications were in the form of thinly applied fluid washes, the lightly impastoed and more opaque paint being used as the painting progressed. Retouching varnish is present but there would appear to be no overall protective varnish.

The straight moulded frame with distressed off white preparation is most probably original. Its appearance is particularly appropriate for the painting. The frame has been fitted with glass or with acrylic glazing since 1985. Only preventive treatment was carried out at the time of acquisition. The condition of the painting is generally good, the few instances of cracking appear to relate to careless handling and reflect its much travelled history and general popularity.

Peter Booth

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