Oskar Kokoschka, Friends, 1917/18
Collection Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz
© Bildrecht Wien, 2021
Oil on canvas, 102 x 151 cm
Collection Lentos Art Museum Linz, Inv. Nr. 76
The group portrait “Die Freunde [Friends]” came into being in 1917 in Dresden, where Oskar Kokoschka was recovering from a serious war injury in the sanatorium “Weißer Hirsch”. Seated close to each other round a table are actress Käthe Richter, poet Walter Hasenclever, Ivar von Lücken, psychiatrist Dr. Fritz Neuberger with his Tolstoy beard, and the painter himself, seen from behind with his face in profile. A waitress is visible in the open door at the back. Kokoschka relied on these people for support during his first time in Dresden. The entire canvas is covered with a network of excited, nervous brush strokes applied in rich impasto. Movement and spatial effect overlap in a riot of colours, which imparts equal status to all the figures. Even though the figures seated round the same table and the title of the painting invoke a feeling of togetherness, there is no visible connection between any of the individuals. None of them is in eye contact with any of the others, each one seems wrapped up in themselves. This speaks to the sense of isolation and angst that Kokoschka felt in his first years in Dresden. The original title of the painting was “Die Glücksspieler [The Gamblers]”. The allegorical meaning – friends in search of happiness that keeps eluding them – has remained the same.