While a widely heralded retrospective in London, Zurich and New York marks the centennial of Oskar Kokoschka's birth, the County Museum of Art has lit a few bright candles for the Austrian Expressionist.
For "A Kokoschka Centenary: His Early Graphics" (through Aug. 31), curator Victor Carlson has made a telling selection of prints, books, post cards, drawings and one tapestry that illuminate the artist's development. All the pieces are drawn from the vast store of Expressionist materials that Robert Gore Rifkind gave to the museum or from his private holding.
The visual centerpiece of the show is the single tapestry, a chain-stitched image of an innocent, nude young couple in a pastoral setting. This 1976 re-creation of a 1908 book illustration is a reminder that the Kokoschka we know as a painter of intensely emotional visions and anguished disillusionment was once akin to wood sprites, milkmaids and deer grazing in idyllic gardens.
Before his paintings churned with frazzled strokes of pigment, his early prints sparkled with the crisp shapes and solid colors of sophisticated folk art. Idealizing rural life, he painted such things as hunters and hounds, fables and angels. This side of Kokoschka is beautifully represented by a batch of post cards made from 1906 to 1908 while he was associated with the Vienna Workshop, an organization that fostered the Austrian version of Art Nouveau.