Sexuality in Art

Oskar Kokoschka and The Silent Woman

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Some people just can’t get over a breakup. They pine for their former lover, taking out old photographs, memorabilia from their time together, maybe even going to their old favorite places. Or just stalking them and harassing them with repeated plaintive texts. Some people go to great lengths in their refusal to let go of their ex. Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka went that extra mile; he had a doll made of the girlfriend who jilted him.

Oskar Kokoschka was an artist, poet, and playwright. In 1912 he started a relationship with socialite and composer Alma Mahler, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler. They only lasted about two years together as in that time Oskar became more obsessed and enthralled with her while Alma’s feelings for Oskar became a bit more “meh.” Oskar volunteered for the Austrian army at the beginning of WW1 in 1914. While he is away, he gets nearly fatally wounded and returns home in 1915 after his recovery. He is wounded again, but this time with a broken heart. Alma had taken up with a former lover, Walter Gropius, and married him while Oskar was away. He deals with the breakup by finding a way to keep Alma with him. He commissions a doll maker to recreate Alma in life size doll form. One that looks and feels like her in every way.

Oskar contacted doll maker Hermine Moos with a detailed description of how he wanted the doll to look and feel. He sent all of Alma’s measurements along with a life-sized drawing and instructions to not only make the doll to the exact measurements but pay close attention to the dimensions of the head, neck, ribcage, rump and limbs. He wrote, “Please permit my sense of touch to take pleasure in those places where layers of fat and muscle suddenly give way to a sinewy covering of skin.” He wanted to transform her into reality, an experience he can embrace. He even gave examples for the main body stuffing and different stuffing for her breast and buttocks. All this detail was so time consuming, it took Hermine six, excruciatingly long for Oskar, months to finish.

The doll is indeed quite lifelike except for one disconcerting detail; its skin was made of feathers. The doll actually looks furry, though seems to be covered with small downy feathers. My guess is that Hermine took the idea of soft skin a bit too much to heart and found the softest thing she could find. Oskar was impressed with the look of the doll but not the fluffy body. He was upset that it made it extremely difficult to dress her in the fine Parisian clothing and undergarments he had bought. He said it was like she was covered in polar bear fur which made it difficult to even get a stocking on much less the clothing and delicate robes he wanted to dress her in. Despite the unnatural plushie quality of her skin, he did seem happy to see the likeness of his love and tried to make the best of it. Unfortunately, it never lived up to his expectations

Oskar spent most of his time sketching and painting the doll, something he had done often with Alma. There were rumors that he took the doll on carriage rides and to the opera, there may have even been sexual relations with it. There was no evidence that he actually did these things and may have been purposely spread by Hulda, whom he was involved with at this time, at his request. He had first thought of this doll as Eurydice returned to Orpheus from the dead. Instead of fueling his addiction, it cured him of it. After all the posing, sketching and painting, he had lost that loving feeling.

Once he had moved on from his obsession he decided to throw a party for The Silent Woman, the name he and Hulda called his ersatz Eurydice. The party got pretty wild. The next morning the police arrived and woke the sleeping post party participants along with Oskar with a report of a murder. When they went out into the garden the doll was found covered in what looked like blood. She was also missing its head. The blood turned out to be red wine. In his drunken state, he beheaded the doll and broke a bottle of red wine over its head. Apparently, he had been cured of his passion and was ready to move on.

Photos still exist of Kokoschka’s Silent Woman, as do the paintings and his original sketches and instructions to Moos. Perhaps Oskar would not have been so disappointed had he been around in modern times. He could have commissioned a RealDoll version of his beloved Alma. I’m sure there would be no risk of dressing his RealDoll feeling like wrestling with a polar bear. Those expensive Parisian fashions would have looked lovely on high-quality silicone.

Photo: Henriette Moos, Oskar Kokoschkas Alma-Puppe als Venus, 1919 © Privatsammlung, Courtesy Richard Nagy Ltd., London

 

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Mughal Painting: Dildos, Sex Doll and Anal Sex

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In my travels around the internet to find interesting (well at least to me) pieces of sexual history, I’ve come across some things that I don’t seem to be able to fit in anywhere else. They just need to stand alone and be admired, discussed or pondered over. One such thing is one particular photo I found while researching sex dolls. The painting shows a copulating couple using some sort of improvised sex toy or machine. The first thing I notice is the two dildos are attached to a board, and one of them is being used for anal sex. Upon closer inspection, I see that the woman is headless. I find the same thing every time I search for more info about this painting, an article using it as evidence of sex doll use in early Persian culture. But is it really a sex doll? Is it really from early Persian culture? This painting was a mystery I just had to solve.

I’ve done some investigating but so far haven’t found out anything that relates to this particular artwork. Not even Wellcome Library in London which houses the actual manuscript page in its collections has any more information other than a possible date. Wellcome has it dated as 19th century, which means it’s not a painting from the heydays of Mughal paintings. It would have to be from the 15th-17th centuries. The piece looks to be part of a manuscript, and there are several other pages done in a style that appear to be part of a series. The other pages have similar looking backgrounds and the same man playing a reoccurring role in them. The manuscript pages seem more like a catalog of sins than a sex manual like the Kama Sutra. The other paintings show the same man copulating with a deer, having anal sex with what looks like a demon or the devil, a crocodile performing cunnilingus on a female demon, women masturbating with vegetables, and more. It’s possible that the subject matter is influenced by the time period. The 19th century found India becoming much more conservative about sex.

There have been several centuries of evolution in Mughal painting before we get to the time of this painting. The Mughal’s Muslim Persianate empire started in the 16th century. The Empire peaked in the mid 17th century, which was a golden age for architecture that included the Taj Mahal. By the mid 18th century, the Mughal’s influence started to decline and was given over entirely to the British Empire by the mid 19th century. During that time, the empire was known not only for its art and architecture but also for science and technology. Mughal paintings were often about the lives of royalty, including their sex lives. The sex portrayed in these paintings is quite explicit, even if the body positioning is painfully unrealistic. Erotic Hindu art greatly influenced Mughal art. Sex was shown as natural and commonplace, even if those practicing it are Mughal kings with their large harems or gods and goddesses. The tone of this painting and the others that seem to be from the same manuscript is entirely different than the ones from the three centuries before it. The sex depicted here is distinctly taboo. It has 19th-century Victorian moral hangups written all over it.

Knowing that this painting is from the 19th century also means that it’s not proof of the early use of sex dolls. I also find that the “headless model,” as Wellcome refers to the figure the man is copulating with, doesn’t look much like a doll. It has pubic hair, and henna on the hands and feet. Perhaps it’s more of a depiction of a headless woman, a way of further dehumanizing the already extremely dehumanized women of the Mughal dynasty. Another possibility is that the figure is a headless goddess, something not uncommon among Hindu deities. The most notable is the tantric goddess, Chinnamasta. She is often shown holding her head while blood gushes in three streams from her neck. This makes it unlikely that the figure in this painting is her specifically. It could be just a random headless goddess. And as if having sex with a headless goddess/doll wasn’t edgy enough, there is the double dildo contraption behind him.

The two realistic dildos, including hair covered scrotum, appear to be attached to a swinging board. I’d bet you dollars to donuts that he can push back on the bottom of that board and have the top part push forward to penetrate himself anally. He may not have all the cast members for an official threesome present, but he’s MacGyvered a sex doll and dildo board for a DIY threeway. We’re talking major maker innovation here.

I still can’t quite figure out where that second dildo is going. Perhaps he borrowed this from someone who uses it for double penetration. Or maybe there’s another painting where headless goddess sex doll is going airtight.

Perhaps I have thought way too long about this painting.

I can’t tell what was the purpose behind these manuscript pages. Were they part of someone’s kinky manuscript of sexy perversions that were meant to titillate or Victorian Christian propaganda trying to make this Mughal king look like the host of a satanically influenced sex party that includes demons, root vegetable dildos, crocodiles, and vagina birds? Yes, vagina birds.

Most of these paintings have some writing at the top, as this one does. I couldn’t find any translations and an email to Wellcome about the text has yet to yield an answer. The writing is in Urdu, which I would love to get translated at some point. I didn’t want to wait until I got a translation to write about this painting. Lakeside anal dildo sex seemed the perfect thing to share with you before Anal August is over. I’m going to continue looking into the mystery of 19th-century pseudo-erotic Mughal paintings. Look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with you.

Here is the full image:

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
images@wellcome.ac.uk
http://wellcomeimages.org

 

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