Life-size mannequin

The artist Oscar Kokoschka suffered a bayonet wound on the Russian front in the First World War. He returned to discover that his lover, Alma Mahler, had married another man. In the depths of despair, he created a replica of her.

Alma met the young Oskar Kokoschka, the enfant terrible of the Viennese art scene, in 1912. He was famous for intense, expressionist portraits. Within twenty-four hours of meeting they engaged in a passionate affair. She became Kokoschka´s consuming obsession and dominated his life and work. His most famous painting, The Bride of the Wind, is one of many paintings she inspired.

Kokoschka missed Alma so desperately that he created a life-size facsimile. He provided detailed drawings, sketches and her exact measurements (provided by Alma’s dress-maker) to artist Hermine Moos who was skilled at making mannequins. Kokoschka wanted the skin to feel real. Moos decided to use swan skin because it felt as soft and sensuous as a woman’s. The most important aspect for Moos was the feel. Kokoschka was disappointed with the finished doll because it looked fluffy. For him, it was all-important that it looked like Alma. For most women the tactile sensation is important, while for men it is the look. In his book Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the English psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis explained that men are visually orientated, while women rely more on their sense of touch.

Kokoschka used the doll as a model for paintings, hired a full time maid for her and took her to the opera and parties. There was speculation about how far their intimacy went. He hired servants and friends to spread rumours about the doll and the newspapers gleefully relayed the stories. The last and most infamous occurred when Kokoschka beheaded the doll at a wild party and poured red wine over her. The following morning a police patrol saw what they thought was a corpse in his garden and burst into his house to arrest him.

Would Kokoschka be more satisfied wih the realistic dolls now available? In the 90’s artist Matt McMullen created a realistic silicone female mannequin and documented the process on his website. He was inundated with emails asking if it was 'anatomically correct'. Although it wasn’t, McMullen realised there was a lucrative market and began making the RealDoll to order. Many companies can now make an exact replica of someone if you provide photographs and measurements. They have glass eyes, real hair, synthetic flesh, artificial intelligence based personalities, respond to voice commands and over 100 sensors spread around their body. With the latest 3D modelling techniques able to laser scan and replicate a detailed human figure, the ultimate duplicate is close at hand.

The perfect doll for Kokoschka? I doubt it. In her essay, Oscar Kokoschka’s Sex Toy, Bonnie Roos reveals that Kokoschka regarded his mannequin as an artwork. He designed, created and

very publicly used it as a piece of performance art. Soon after the doll incidents, Kokoschka was appointed as professor at Dresden Art Academy, a role that involved a great deal of responsibility, man management and paperwork. The governors would not have appointed someone crazy. They understood that the doll was part of his artistic agenda. They also knew of the long association between artists and mannequins, from the Renaissance through to Manet, Renoir and Degas. Puppets and mannequins also featured strongly in the contemporary Dada and Surrealist movements. It is also revealing that Alma touchingly suggested Kokoschka make a replica of her as a solution to his anguish at losing her. 

Kokoschka intended the doll to increase his reputation and fame. It worked. Here we are, one hundred years later, still discussing it. Not crazy but shrewd.

The connection between artist and mannequin is explored in the exhibition, Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish currently at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. It’s creepy, but essential viewing.

References: Oscar Kokoschka's Sex Toy: The Women and the Doll Who Conceived the Artist. Roos, Bonnie, 2005. Modernity/ Modernism, Volume 12, Number 2.

Rod Judkins MA RCA is an artist, writer, and professional public speaker, delivering lectures and workshops that explain the creative process and help individuals and businesses to be more inspired in their lives and work. His new book The Art of Creative Thinking is released in April and he is the author of the bestseller, Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self. 

The Art of Creative Thinking

Facebook

Twitter

Linkedin

Website

Change Your Mind

About the Author

Rod Judkins, MA, RCA

Rod Judkins is the author of The Art of Creative Thinking and Change Your Mind: 57 Ways to Unlock Your Creative Self.

You are reading

Connect to Creativity

Creative Thinking is no Longer an Option, It's Essential

Universities require students who can think creatively

Is Being Normal a Disadvantage in Life?

There is evidence that conditions like ADHD are an advantage in many fields.

Five Reasons You Should Write a Book, Now

You don't have to be a writer to benefit from writing