In this portfolio Oskar Kokoschka is Christopher Columbus charting the untamed world of Woman. The twelve lithographs are a manifestation of Kokoschka’s obsession and infatuation with Alma Mahler, his lover from 1912 to 1914. Apart from the portfolio’s title—a reference to the movie The Coming of Columbus, which Kokoschka had watched with Mahler one summer—the prints have no connection to the historical explorer.
The series serves as a meditation on the universal and timeless conflict between the sexes. Kokoschka, unable to free himself from his desire, depicts himself as following Mahler on a path that ultimately leads to his own demise. Along the way, he weaves personal memories from their relationship into the images. Das Paar im Kerzenlicht (Couple in candlelight) recalls an experience they had in a hotel: fog floated into their room through an open balcony door; to Mahler’s delight, Kokoschka placed a candle underneath it to dispel the ghostlike apparition. The rich range of tonal contrasts, achieved through Kokoschka’s skillful use of the lithographic crayon, underscores the dreamlike quality of the events.
Kokoschka originally began Der gefesselte Columbus as a sequel to his youthful fairy tale of sexual obsession, Die träumenden Knaben (The dreaming boys; 1908). He finished the lithographs in early 1914. Fritz Gurlitt published the prints in portfolio form in 1916 and then in a book edition with an accompanying text by Kokoschka in 1921.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.