Hiob (Job) is a tale of the combative relationship between the sexes, based in part on some of the characters from Kokoschka’s first play, Sphinx und Strohmann (The sphinx and the strawman, 1907), and even more loosely on the Book of Job. Kokoschka planned to use it as his contribution to the artist Franz Marc’s unrealized plans for an illustrated Bible. The illustrations show Kokoschka turning to a naturalistic style, and pulse with an energy suited to the unpredictable narrative. In Kokoschka’s burlesque interpretation of the biblical story, man is tested by woman, not God. The artist inserts many autobiographical elements of his passionate but ill-fated affair with Alma Mahler, who had left him and shortly thereafter married architect Walter Gropius. Kokoschka appears as Job—in this version crazed and cuckolded. He loses his head to Anima, a female soul who might also be the manifestation of his own ego. At the end, she kills him and is revealed to be Eve.
In 1917, the same year Paul Cassirer in Berlin published this book, Kokoschka directed the play’s premiere in Dresden. He relied on the vision of the events he developed in his prints, and transposed the final illustration from the book directly onto the stage.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.