Oskar Kokoschka

by Frank Whitford. Atheneum, $21.95. Before he reached the age of thirty, Kokoschka had established a reputation as both a painter and an experimental writer, his acquaintances and patrons including members of the avantgarde aesthetic circle that radiated from Klimt in Vienna. Discontented with Vienna, Kokoschka worked in various German cities, usually collecting more respect than money. He conducted, in due course, a love affair with that ubiquitous genius-collector Alma Mahler, and as a result indulged in a bizarre bout of mental aberration. He claimed to have second sight, and perhaps he did, for his portraits sometimes revealed what his sitters had thought was safely buried in their own minds. All these matters give his biographer excellent material with which to entertain and inform the reader. Kokoschka himself presents problems, however. He had a habit of reinventing—to put it politely—his own past, and Mr. Whitford is regularly obliged, after quoting his subject’s reminiscences, to explain that there is no truth in them.