Exhibition Archive

Oskar Kokoschka’s The Dreaming Youths

1 October - 30 November 2003


Renowned as an Expressionist painter, the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) began his career in the decorative arts, studying book illustration, printmaking and typography alongside life drawing at Vienna’s School of Applied Arts. The Dreaming Youths, begun in November 1907 and printed the following June, was Kokoschka’s first major graphic series, produced at the age of 21 while he was still a student. It started as a commission for a children’s picture-book, but Kokoschka set aside his brief after the first illustration, adding verses to create a complex 'picture-poem’ exploring the desires and anxieties of adolescent sexuality. He described it as 'a kind of record, in words and pictures, of my own state of mind at the time’, in particular of his love for Lilith Lang, the sister of a fellow student, who appears with him in the final image.

The eight colour lithographs show a wide range of artistic influences, from the prevailing Jugendstil or Arts and Crafts aesthetic to Japanese woodcuts and medieval folk art. Yet the stream-of-consciousness text with its frank, erotic metaphor and personal mythology points to a new expressionist sensibility which soon came to dominate Kokoschka’s artistic productions, both visual and literary.