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

 

Last modified: September 20, 2016

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