Oskar Kokoschka was fascinated by Lake Geneva from the time he first saw it at the age of twenty-four when travelling to Switzerland with the Viennese architect Adolf Loos, to visit the latter’s friend, the dancer Bessie Bruce, who was convalescing in the village of Les Avants, above Montreux. During this visit, Kokoschka painted Les Dents du Midi as well as several portraits, including one of Auguste Forel in Yvorne. On his second trip to Switzerland, in 1923, he painted his first two views of the lake from Blonay. The view pleased him so much that in 1951 he decided to buy a property up the hill in Villeneuve, which became his home two years later. He died in Montreux at the age of ninety-four, having spent twenty-seven years – nearly a third of his life — in the canton of Vaud.
Kokoschka painted his last large-scale views of Lake Geneva from Glion and Villeneuve, including this one, between 1955 and 1957. The incredible depth of field here is due to the elliptical compositional plan with two viewpoints. Kokoschka did indeed prefer a bifocal view as he considered an isometric perspective very reductive since ‘a man has two eyes’. The tree hiding the mountain peak ensures that the gaze takes in the full extent of the landscape, as if peripheral vision had become clear and been incorporated into it. It feels as though we could look around the tree to see what is behind it. This sumptuous, tormented landscape owes a great deal to Peter Paul Rubens, for whom every landscape is the theatre of a dramatic event. Kokoschka captures the scenery in its last moments of inviolability. What interests him is not the idyll, but nature in its wild, untamed state – the nature that disappeared in the 1960s. Glion, vue sur le lac Léman contains a gloomy presentiment of the disfiguring that would be inflicted on the countryside of Lake Geneva.
Antonia Hoerschelmann (ed.), Oskar Kokoschka. Exil und neue Heimat 1934-1980, exh. cat. Vienne, Albertina, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2008.
Andreas Meier (ed.), Kokoschka : Beziehungen zur Schweiz, exh. cat. Pfäffikon, Seedamm Kulturzentrum – Stiftung Charles und Agnes Vögele, Bern, Benteli, 2005.
Oskar Kokoschka, Ma vie, translated from German into French by Michel-François Demet, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1986.