Oskar Kokoschka. The Eavesdropper (Des Lauscher) (plate, folio 18) from Die Chinesische Mauer (The Great Wall of China). 1914 (executed 1913)

Oskar Kokoschka The Eavesdropper (Des Lauscher) (plate, folio 18) from Die Chinesische Mauer (The Great Wall of China) 1914 (executed 1913)

  • Not on view

In 1909, Austrian writer Karl Kraus published an essay in the Viennese journal he edited, Die Fackel (The torch), on the real-life story of Elsie Sigel, a young white missionary murdered in New York that summer, allegedly by a Chinese waiter. As early as 1910, Kraus asked Oskar Kokoschka to make illustrations for a book edition. Kraus saw Kokoschka as a kindred spirit, someone who also exposed hypocrisy and rejected conventions in his work.

Sigel's naked, strangled body had been found stuffed in a trunk in an apartment above a Chinese restaurant, along with 2,000 love letters from her and many other upper-class white women who had supposedly been seduced by the waiter suspected of the murder. Sigel had met him in the mission in Chinatown where she worked. The sexual and racial overtones of the events prompted salacious coverage in the press, and these distortions were the real subject of Kraus's story.

Kokoschka's prints have little to do with the murder. Instead, the eight lithographs are set in a place far away from New York and show the artist with Alma Mahler, one of fin-de-siècle Vienna's most extraordinary women. Kokoschka used the commission to work through his unresolved pain over the abortion of their child. After various delays, the book finally appeared in 1914.

Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.
Author
Karl Kraus
Medium
Lithograph from an illustrated book with eight lithographs
Dimensions
composition (irreg.): 11 3/16 x 10 15/16" (28.4 x 27.8 cm); page: 18 15/16 x 14 7/8" (48.1 x 37.8 cm)
Publisher
Kurt Wolff Verlag, Leipzig
Printer
Poeschel & Trepte, Leipzig
Edition
200; plus portfolio edition of 30 published 1919
Credit
Purchase Fund
Object number
334.1947.7
Copyright
© 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Pro Litteris, Zurich
Illustrated book
Die Chinesische Mauer (The Great Wall of China)
Department
Drawings and Prints
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