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Between and Mortarboard

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The Snake Charmer

Accession Number

The Snake Charmer

Oskar Kokoschka

Artist Nationality

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
tempera on wove paper

7 3/8 x 6 7/16 in. (18.7 x 16.2 cm);19 5/16 x 14 5/16 in. (49 x 36.3 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Herbert Barrows

Label copy
March 28, 2009
Oskar Kokoschka began his formal art training at the Vienna School of Applied Art, where from 1904 to 1909 he was particularly influenced by the work of fellow Austrian Gustav Klimt. Breaking with traditional academic structure and seeking a freedom of style and technique, Klimt led the Art Nouveau movement in Vienna that would come to be known as the Sezessionstil (Secession style). The Secessionists produced experimental architecture and crafts and revolutionized graphic works, incorporating bold colors and free-flowing organic forms into a new, modern means of artistic expression.
In The Snake Charmer we see a fine example of the Secessionist influence in the bright palette and geometrically patterned composition. Kokoschka’s works at this time are reflective of the ornamental and purely decorative aspects of the Art Nouveau movement, though in this drawing we see an evolution toward a more expressionistic style. The central female figure with her mermaid’s tail and shocking red mane of hair, the skull-headed musician at left, and the green monsters crawling around the perimeter of the composition anticipate the darker aspects of Kokoschka’s art that would emerge, particularly in his portraits, in the years to come.

Subject matter
“The Snake Charmer” marks a movement towards a more expressionistic style in Kokoschka’s work incorporating a bold, bright color palette, undulating lines and organic forms into a new, modern means of artistic expression filled with metaphors and personal mythologies.
The image is unsettling with acidic colors and dark, outlandish subject matter suggestive of an underwater scene with a mermaid, green sea monsters and a skull-headed musician at left playing a guitar representing the snake charmer.

Physical Description
Geometrically patterned composition with bright saturated colors composed of a central female figure with mermaid’s tail and bright red mane of hair; skull-headed figure at left with guitar; two green monster-like figures in upper right quadrant; two black fish with blue eyes near center.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area
Modern and Contemporary

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Expressionist (style)
fish (animals)
musical instruments
sea monsters

& Author Notes

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