Die Macht der Musik
The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
There are two figures in Oskar Kokoschka’s painting 'The Power of Music'. To the left, a woman holding a lilac flower in her hand is blowing on a trumpet-like instrument; to the right, a boy, who is crouching down with his arms over his head, is turning away from her. In the distance there is an animal walking away. The boy is painted in warm colours: red, orange and yellow, while the woman is mainly painted in green and a chilly greenish yellow. The environment consists mainly of dark, predominantly blue fields of colour. The paint is applied thickly with rough brushstrokes in all sorts of directions.
As a result of his experiences on the front during the First World War and during a turbulent love affair with Alma Mahler between 1912 and 1915 Kokoschka had become physically and psychologically damaged. He expressed his turbulent emotions in 'The Power of Music'. The subject is the conflict between the sexes in which the woman puts a spell on the man just as in Kokoschka’s own personal life, and drives him to despair. At first he called this work 'Weakness and Strength', but when it was finished he changed the title. The way in which Kokoschka designed his work is directly related to the content. The position of the figures reflects his emotions. The boy is hemmed in, in the bottom right corner. The woman’s head is slightly pulled back as though she is withdrawing, but she stretches out her hand with the flower to the boy in an inviting gesture. The animal that is fleeing is a sort of echo of the boy’s withdrawal.
The colours which Kokoschka used together in groups – warm and sultry for the boy, chilly for the woman, and dark and threatening in the background – directly determine the atmosphere of the painting. They were chosen more to reinforce the narrative than to depict a real situation. This personal choice of colour and the use of paint as a paste are characteristics of Expressionism. After the First World War, Kokoschka settled in Dresden where the group of Expressionist artists, “Die Brücke'”, was founded. Previously he had already seen the work of avant-garde artists such as Kandinsky, Chagall and Nolde in Berlin. Kokoschka developed his own personal style, but was influenced by this innovative art.
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