Oskar Laske (1874, Czernowitz, Ukraine-1951, Vienna) was the son of an architect. While still a school-boy, Laske showed a keen interest in painting and took lessons with landscape artist Anton Hlavacek. He began his formal schooling studying architecture at Vienna’s University of Technology and later at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts* under Otto Wagner. By 1901, Laske was working as an independent architect, and he traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He designed the “Engel-Apotheke”, a famous pharmacy in Vienna’s First district, as well as a number of residential projects including the Hartmann and Schaumburg houses. He was also responsible for the interior design of the cabaret theatre “Nachtlicht”, and created various glass-designs for the renowned Austrian glass-manufacturer Lobmeyer. Laske’s paintings during this early period were mostly landscapes, city squares and genre scenes.

In 1907, Laske joined an art collective known as the Hagenbund* (Hagen Society or Association). The group took its name from Herr Haagen, the landlord of an inn at which artists often met for informal discussion. Its most prominent members early on were Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban, who originally had worked and exhibited within the conservative Vienna Künstlerhaus, but now, like the Vienna Secession*, rebelled against the establishment and formed their own organization. The Hagenbund lived for almost a decade of its life in the shadow of the popular and successful Secession, and only in the years that followed the damaging resignation of the Klimpt Group, followers of Gustav Klimt, from the Secession did its members succeed in developing a more moderate, independent line, in which atmosphere played a major role.

After 1918, the formal language of the Hagenbund came to dominate artistic activity in Vienna, and in the 1920s it provided the most important focus for new artistic currents. Among its members during this period were Oskar Laske, Anton Hanak, Carry Hauser, George Merkel, Sergius Pauser, Otto Rudolf Schatz, Albin Egger-Lienz and Oskar Kokoschka. They disassociated themselves from both the Secession and Expressionism* on essential questions of aesthetics. They may have approved of the Expressionists’ search for Realism*, but the expressive formal solutions they found conflicted with the Hagenbund’s own artistic objectives.

After World War I, in particular, many works of these artists show a lucid, sometimes monumental Realism, which brings them close to the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) school.

By the early twenties, Laske’s work was characterized by a distinct cheerful and colorful narrative quality. He illustrated a number of books dealing with various popular subjects, including Biblical topics, and he was also an accomplished stage designer. In 1924, Laske joined the Vienna Secession, and by 1928 he was giving exhibitions at the Vienna Kunstlerhaus. Often his work revealed a satirical and humorous undertone and sometimes it was too esoteric to understand, but always it was indicative of his boundless imagination.

After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, Laske managed to continue to support himself as an artist working mostly in watercolor. He left a large body of work.

Museums: Heeresgeschichtliche Museum ( Military History), Vienna; Osterreichische Galerie, Belvedere Museum, Vienna; The Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Honors: 1932 Golden State Medal; 1937 Reichel-Preis 1937 (The Reichel Award); 1948 Prize of the City of Viennafor art and graphics.

Sources: Toman, Rolf: Vienna, Art and Achitecture, Konemann, 1999; Benezit’s Art Dictionary; Kunsthandel-freller.at; German Wikipedia.

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