KOKOSCHKA, Oskar (1886-1980). Die traeumenden Knaben. Vienna: Berger [the coloured lithographs] and Chwala [the plain lithographs and text] for the Wiener Werkstätte, 1908.
Oblong 4° (240 x 296mm). Lithographic dedication and title, and 8 colour-printed lithographic plates after woodcuts by Kokoschka. Original japanese-style binding, hessian-covered boards, the upper cover with applied lithographic panel after Kokoschka (fabric slightly faded and discoloured, extremities lightly rubbed causing unobtrusive losses, skilfully resewn, endpapers lightly spotted and with small, neat repairs).
FIRST EDITION, FIRST ISSUE. KOKOSCHKA'S 'APPEAL FOR ANIMAL VITALITY, WHICH ACHIEVES SELF-LIBERATION THROUGH THE RITUAL OF THE SENSES; [...] A CRITIQUE OF CIVILISATION EXPRESSED IN FAIRY-TALE IMAGES' (R. Calvocoressi (ed.) Oskar Kokoschka 1886-1980 (London: 1986), p.13), and with Max Slevogt's Sindbad der Seefahrer (Berlin: 1908), 'THE FIRST IMPORTANT MODERN [ARTIST-ILLUSTRATED BOOK] FROM EAST OF THE RHINE' (The Artist & the Book 1860-1960). Die traumenden Knaben was written and illustrated by Kokoschka in 1906-1907, as an exercise set when he was a student at the Wiener Werkstätte Kunstgewerbeschule. The poem was inspired in part by Kokoschka's love for a fellow-student named Lilith and describes a young boy's dream, in which the three eponymous children travel through strange and symbolic land- and seascapes. The contemporary poet Max Mell described it thus in his review 'Chaos in Kindheit': 'The inner sequence of these eight, sybylline, highly coloured plates starts from the first, delicately childlike overture, a fairy-tale island world with its cliffs, its castle and its park full of wild life ruled by a king's daughter with fair hair. The last plate [illustrated above] displays the anguished loneliness of two half-mature, childish bodies, oblivious of the bright surrounding world in their desire-ridden emptiness. Only lust for each other flares up between them, glowing red, and their desires flutter uncontrollably towards each other. Between these poles of puberty, a beatific absence of desire and a hunger for life, come fear, tremulous stealth, longing for adventure, and the idyll' (Die Zukunft, 15 August 1908, quoted in: W.J. Schweiger Wiener Werkstaette Design in Vienna 1903-1932 (London: 1984), pp.89-90). The artist described the work as 'eine Art Bericht in Wort und Bild über meinen damaligen Seelenzustandgewesen' (Mauron p.225), and it bears the influence not only of Gustav Klimt (the dedicatee), but also of Freud's thought.
500 copies of the work were printed and it was exhibited at the Wiener Werkstätte's 'Kunstschau Wien 1908' (the first occasion on which the artist's work was exhibited); however, it was not a commercial success and few copies sold. In 1917, once Kokoschka's reputation was established, the remaining copies were bought up by the publisher Kurt Wolff, who re-issued 275 copies as a limited edition. This copy can be identified as one of the first, 1908 issue by the absence of Wolff's colophon label bearing the date 1917 on the lower pastedown. The Artist & the Book 1860-1960 147; Castleman A Century of Artists' Books pp.107 and 240; From Manet to Hockney 24; Johnson Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000 24; Mauron Werke der Oskar Kokoschka-Stiftung pp.224-225.