About this artwork
Despite its early date (Oskar Kokoschka described it as his second finished painting), this portrait already reveals the artist’s great gifts as a portraitist and the hallmarks of his highly personal form of Expressionism. Like Max Beckmann and Chaim Soutine, Kokoschka used calculated distortions of line and color in a highly individual manner to give emotional force to his paintings. As a student in Vienna, he was influenced not only by the German Expressionist artists of Die Briicke (The Bridge), but also by Gustav Klimt and by Jugendstijl art, as shown by the sensitive, nervous line and the touch of melancholy that came to characterize his work.
Kokoschka met his sitter through the avant-garde architect Adolf Loos, who introduced him to Vienna’s high society and thus provided him with subjects for a penetrating series of portraits. As tailor to the Austrian imperial court, Ernst Ebenstein was one of the most accomplished and admired members in the world of Viennese high fashion. During a visit to the Art Institute in 1958, Kokoschka remembered him as kind and generous. Ebenstein had offered to make the artist some clothes and had taught him a great deal about anatomy based on his sartorial experience as a perceptive observer of the human body. Kokoschka’s affection for his sitter seems to be reflected in the compassionate yet unflinching honesty with which he recorded the signs of age on his face and hands. The sitter has been caught in a moment of relaxed introspection, his gaze averted from the viewer, his social persona momentarily laid aside to reveal his inner self. Even the sitter’s impeccable black attire has a crumpled, weathered quality that bespeaks human vulnerability and frailty. As in other portraits by Kokoschka, the hands constitute a psychological focus as strong as that of the face. The artist’s expressive distortions are especially evident here. Painted in a vivid orange, these gnarled and bony hands seem to express the man’s very essence and become the locus of his professional and psychological identity.
—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 136-137.
Currently Off View
- Modern Art
- Oskar Kokoschka
- Commerce Counselor Ebenstein
- Oil on canvas
- Signed, l.r.: "O K"
- 40 1/16 × 31 15/16 in. (101.8 × 81.1 cm)
- Joseph Winterbotham Collection
- © 2018 Fondation Oskar Kokoschka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zurich