A masterpiece by Oskar Kokoschka restored!

Published on 27.03.2020

The Trance Player (1909), a masterpiece by Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka, has just received major conservation and restoration treatment. The extremely delicate operation lasted eight months and the result is stunning! Soon the public will be able to rediscover the quintessence of Kokoschka’s work: a powerful, colourful, wild, crucial, expressionist portrait brought to life by the force of the material.

For more than one reason, The Trance Player. Portrait of Ernst Reinhold belongs among the masterpieces of the collection 20th century paintings. After all, the work is part of Oskar Kokoschka's series of nervous portraits of the Viennese cultural elite that turned Vienna just before the First World War into an intellectually vibrant place. These early works are widely acknowledged as the most interesting of his career. The artist exhibited the portrait of the actor Ernst Reinhold - who was actually named Ernst Hirsch - at the Internationale Kunstschau in April 1909, together with the well-known poster of his play Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, Hope of Women). At the premiere, on the last day of the Kunstschau, it is Ernst Reinhold who plays the leading role and, with the performance of this scandalous play, makes expressionist theatre history. In 1920 the painting was included in the collection of the Schlesisches Museum der bildende Künste in Breslau, where it remained until the Nazis declared it degenerate art and confiscated it in 1937. In 1939 the RMFAB bought this work at the auction Paintings and sculptures of modern masters from German museums in Lucerne

For a considerable time, the Trancespieler had been in a very fragile state, preventing us from transporting the work. Thorough conservation and restoration treatments were required, but this was not an overnight job. Preparatory research showed, among other things, that the materials used were of dubious quality and that the artist displayed great technical freedom, which partly explains today's problems. After all, the painting was executed on a recovered canvas, which negatively influenced the stability of the pictorial layers of this composition. The brushstrokes are so energetic and pasty and the writing so nervous, that over time damage in the paint layers occurred; the canvas showed severe undulations.

Cracks in the paint layer had to be fixed and prevented from getting worse. The canvas was reattached to the chassis. A soft approach was consistently chosen with maximum respect for the original material and the aesthetic choices of the artist. Subsequent imprudent additions of varnishes have been removed, while idiosyncratic material choices have of course been preserved. The result of this 8 month conservation and restoration treatment is truly magnificent. Today the painting is structurally healthy, protected and safeguarded for the future.  Soon the public will be able to get acquainted with Kokoschka at his best: a fierce portrait–colourful, wild, vital, full-blown expressionistic and carried by the brute force of the material.