1912 No. 1: Oskar Kokoschka writes to Alma Mahler

In 1912, the artist Kokoschka embarked on a passionate three-year affair with Alma Mahler, widow of composer Gustav Mahler, and wrote her many letters. The recipient asked for her own letters back and destroyed them; we now see this tragic love affair only through the eyes of the disappointed artist who must have expected and demanded more than she was able to give.

Here’s how it started:

Vienna, 15.iv.1912

My dear friend,

Please believe this resolution, as I believed you.

I know I am lost if I continue in my present unclear way of life, I know it is the way to lose my gifts, which I ought to direct towards a goal outside myself, the goal sacred to you and to me.

If you can respect me, and are willing to be as pure as you were yesterday, when I recognized you as higher and better than all other women, who only made a savage of me, then make a real sacrifice for my sake and become my wife, in secret, for so long as I am poor. When I no longer have to conceal myself, I shall thank you for being my consolation. You shall keep your joyousness and purity for me as a source of strength, so that I do not fall into the savagery that threatens me. You shall preserve me until I can be the man who raises you up instead of dragging you down. Since yesterday, when you asked me to be that man, I have believed in you as I have never believed in anyone except myself.

If you will be the woman who gives me strength, and will thus help me out of my spiritual confusion, the beauty we honour, which is beyond our understanding, will bless us both with happiness. Write and tell me that I may come to you, and I will take it for your consent.

I remain in reverence, yours,

Oskar Kokoschka

5 Responses to “1912 No. 1: Oskar Kokoschka writes to Alma Mahler”

  1. Joseph Masheck Says:

    I am so naive about such things that I should probably not risk commenting, but it sounds to me like she had just told he he wasn’t, or wasn’t yet, good enough for her. I just noticed a 1914 painting The Bride of the Wind, with the two of them reclining together on the ground. Then there is the self-portrait of him stretched out alone, called Knight Errant, 1915, where he is taken to be depressed by her having had their child aborted. She must have been a toughie. She went on to marry Walter Gropius, head of the Bauhaus; but maybe she could be sweet when she wanted to be, for next was the Catholic novelist Franz (Song of Bernadette) Werfel. There is a Tom Lehrer ‘folksong’ about this, which begins, “Tell us, Alma, \which of your magical charms / Got you Gustave und Walter und Franz.”

  2. Tess Kincaid Says:

    Exquisitely romantic.

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