The Bride of the Wind

Oskar Kokoschka (1914)

A couple entwined, both shipwrecked by the swirling, howling night around them, but contrasted in their responses to what crowds in on them: he is awake, anxious, his body covered in bruises, while she sleeps serenely. She is Alma Mahler, the muse of Vienna, one of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century: having been widowed by Gustav, she then married Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School, and moreover was a composer, writer, cultural icon. No wonder, then, that the picture shows us such a blatant imbalance: she seems somehow more solidly painted, less buffered by the wild waves of the nightmare that surrounds them. Unlike Hoppers or Freuds women, she is the author of her own world, in control of her own portrayal. Meanwhile, he wrings his hands, a thousand-yard stare stretching into the abyss. For him, the psychological torment of insomnia – with its thoughts of inadequacy, rejection, annihilation, and the rest – becomes the artists physical place; the raw pain of his inside world made agonisingly visible.