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Renowned as an Expressionist painter, the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) began his career in the decorative arts, studying book illustration, printmaking and typography alongside life drawing at Vienna’s School of Applied Arts between 1904 and 1908. The Dreaming Youths, begun in November 1907 and printed the following June, was Kokoschka’s first major graphic series, produced at the age of 21 while he was still a student. It started as a commission for a children’s picture-book, but Kokoschka set aside his brief after the first illustration, adding verses to create a complex ‘picture-poem’ exploring the desires and anxieties of adolescent sexuality. He described it as ‘a kind of record, in words and pictures, of my own state of mind at the time’, in particular of his love for Lilith Lang, the sister of a fellow student, who appears with him in the final image, The Girl Li and I. He wrote later that ‘the book was my first love-letter’, although his relationship with Lilith had ended by the time it appeared.
The Dreaming Youths was one of Kokoschka’s most significant early statements, and the frank, erotic metaphor and personal mythology introduced here would become central to his later artistic productions, both visual and literary.
The girl Li and I
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