Kokoschka's early career was marked by intense portraits of Viennese celebrities. He served in the Austrian army in World War I and was wounded; at the hospital, the doctors decided that he was mentally unstable as well as physically wounded. Nevertheless, he continued to develop his career as an artist, travelling across Europe and painting the landcapes he encountered. He had a passionate, often stormy affair with Alma Mahler, shortly after the death of her infant daughter with Walter Gropius. After several years together, Mahler rejected him, explaining that she was afraid of being too overcome with passion. He continued to love her his entire life, and one of his greatest works Bride of the Wind is a tribute to her.
Deemed a degenerate by the Nazis, Kokoschka fled Austria for the United Kingdom in 1938 and remained there during the war. He traveled briefly to the United States in 1947 before settling in Switzerland, where he died.