Kokoschka was born in Poechlarn, Lower Austria.
He is regarded as one of the leading exponents of Expressionism. In his early portraits, gesture intensifies the psychological penetration of character; especially powerful among his later works are allegories of the artist’s emphatic humanism. His dramas, poems, and prose are significant for their psychological insight and stylistic daring.
From the beginning Kokoschka’s primary artistic interest was the human figure; this interest was perhaps rooted in his deep concern for humanity, which transcended even his concern for art. He tried to find practical means to pursue this interest. His real desire was to create monumental paintings. Kokoschka taught himself to paint in oils and executed some canvases, but economic necessity forced him to spend most of his time on decorative work, and the general artistic milieu around him continued to be unsupportive of his creative aspirations.
Kokoschka left Austria in 1934 to flee to Prague, from where he moved on to Great Britain.
He became a British citizen in 1946 and only in 1978 would regain Austrian citizenship. He traveled briefly to the United States in 1947 before settling in Switzerland, where he lived the rest of his life.