Figure painter and Austrian Expressionist, Egon Schiele had mastery of male and female nude painting. He was known for his unique graphic style and distorted figures, in his effort to re-define conventional aesthetics and art. Beyond those distortions and vivid colors, his portraits seemed to explore the models’ sexuality and psychology, which was an approach regularly used by 20th century portraitists.
Schiele may have had a brief career, but his skill was undoubtedly prolific. His controversial biography also made a huge impact on his popularity as he lived through a series of scandals and tragedies. He died prematurely, and at the time, he was already on the threshold of his first success commercially. Nevertheless, he left an influential mark during his time especially on erotic painters and expressionists. His works were often comparable to that of Vincent van Gogh in terms of their ability to shock the audience by their compulsive art.
It is said that Schiele’s portraits served instrumental in re-kindling the interest of artists and ordinary people in his genre. The portraits possessed an unexpected level of erotic intensity and emotional appeal characterized by its figural distortions brought about by the models’ unsettling angles and the absence of decorative attributes which were regularly depicted in a conventional portrait. There were certain times though when the painter would use traditional motifs to intensify his images and make it appear allegorical, especially when talking about the human condition.
Some examples of Schiele’s exceptional portraits included Portrait of Arthur Roessler (1910), Anton Peschka (1909), Portrait of Wally (1912), Valerie Neuzil (1912), and a series of self-portraits. He also made graphic art works such as Semi-Nude Girl, Reclining (1911). Some of his most famous nude paintings are self-portraits and for him, art works of an erotic nature is a normal genre for whoever artist that may wish to draw it.
Egon Schiele was born in June 12, 1890 in a town near Lower Austria. He was the son of a train station master assigned at the Tulln station, while his mother was a Czech native from Southern Bohemia. His father’s job sparked his fascination of trains. It was his first artistic inspiration, spending his spare time drawing trains. Until such time he became quite obsessed by it, his father destroyed his drawing books to put a stop a top it.
The Schieles moved to Krems when the young painter was eleven years old. There he received his secondary education, where he met an art teacher who expressed moral support for him to push through. According to his biographers, as an adolescent, Schiele was someone to be avoided from because he was strange, reserved and did not excel at academics and sports. His strength was certainly drawing and painting so the other pupils would come to him for his help.
At some point, the young Schiele displayed incestuous act toward Gertrude, the younger sibling. Once his father had to topple the door because the siblings were left alone in that room, just so he could see what the two were doing. Another controversy sprung when he took Gertrude away by train to spend the night in a hotel in Trieste. Strangely, Egon was only sixteen years old and his younger sister was twelve at the time.
In 1905, Egon Schiele’s father succumbed to syphilis and so he was sent to live with his maternal uncle. This uncle named Leopold Czihaczec wanted his nephew to be a railway master, too, but when he discovered the boy’s artistic talent, he allowed him to undergo training with Ludwig Karl Strauch. By 1906, he was ready to attend the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna. His first year had been successful, during which several of his art teachers recommended him to attend the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in the same city.
At the new academy, the school of thought was traditional and rigorous. He was subjected under the tutelage of Christian Griepenkerl, who was known for his stringent requirements and styles. As such, the young Schiele’s performance was judged subpar from what he expected. The painter was then forced to leave Griepenkerl’s studio after three years. Additionally, during this period, he would have already befriended Gustav Klimt. The Austrian master became Schiele’s supervisor and art collector. It was also Klimt who officially introduced him to the art market and somehow brought him his early commercial success.
Meeting Gustav Klimt in 1907 was a pivotal moment for the young artist. Klimt’s wide network of patrons introduced Schiele to the world of Wiener Werkstatte, a group of artists and crafters collectively called Secession. One year later Schiele held his first art show in Klosterneuburg, which marked him as a protégé of Klimt.
In 1909, he left the Academy of Fine Arts which gave him a lot of time forming the New Art Group. The said group would consist of fellow students dissatisfied by the rigid tradition of the Academy. Klimt then again invited him to submit some of his paintings for the 1909 Vienna Kunstaschau Exhibition. There he got a closer look of the works by Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Jan Toorop primarily. The exposure to other works of art gave him an idea on what he would become as an independent artist. He chose the unconventional style as a reaction against the ultra-traditional school of thought of his previous school masters.
The advent of 1910 marked another beginning for Schiele’s style. He began to experiment with depicting human sexuality and figural distortions, which several of his contemporaries found quite disturbing. Nonetheless, he received many invites from art show organizers to present such as in the 1910 Neukunstgruppe in Prague and the 1912 Budapest Exhibition. This was then followed by the Secessionist shows from 1911 to 1913, the prestigious Sonderbund, Cologne exhibition of 1912, Galerie Hans Goltz of 1913 in Munich, and his first one-man show in Paris by 1914.
Egon Schiele befriended Wally Neuzil in 1911, during which the model was only seventeen years old. Wally had also modeled for Klimt but it was with Schiele whom she had a rumored affair. In fact the two went to Cesky Krumlov town to escape the prejudices of the Viennese public, however when they got there, the residents must have heard of their controversial lifestyle that they have thrown them out of the town. In that period, Schiele pretty had a bad reputation saying that he deliberately employed minor girls as painting models.
Schiele left the town and joined the Viennese Miethke Salon afterward. He then got accepted into the premier association of Munich artists called Sema, in which painters like Alfred Kubin and Paul Klee were members. The year 1912 onwards had been a series of exhibitions for Schiele, coming in and out of the country. However, when he stayed in Neulengbach, he was accused of seducing and abducting minor girls which in this case he had to render a 24-day detention while the trial was ongoing.
In April 1912 the police arrested him as one of the girls he allegedly seduced pressed charges against him. The authorities also confiscated hundreds of his drawings, which were labeled as pornographic, which was obviously a threat to the innocence of the juveniles. Although the seduction charges were dismissed, Schiele would still be proven guilty of pornography and for making it accessible to teenagers. One of his erotic drawings was burned before the court and he was then sentenced to spend 21 days under the court’s custody.
Meanwhile, he took the time to be productive by producing 12 paintings while in the prison. The paintings portrayed the struggles and adjustments he had to endure throughout the imprisonment.
Two years later Schiele’s imprisonment, he settled in Heitzing, Vienna and founded a small studio there. Across the street was where the sisters Adele and Edith Harms were living, whom he caught glimpse at. In 1915, he asked for Edith’s hands but put her through a situation where she would live a double life with Wally and Schiele. In a letter sent to Aurthur Roessler, he expressed his intention in marrying Edith despite the protest of her family. On 17th of June 2015, Egon and Edith married in Vienna.
In 1915, he was called upon by the military to render service. He served as a clerk in the prison camp based in Muehling while attending some exhibitions organized by the Secessions of Munich and Berlin at the same time. He even had up and coming shows around Dresden, Prague, and Zurich.
During the Great War, he met Karl Moser, his senior who also happened to be a designer and painter. Moser allowed him to express his creative freedom in a small studio at the camp. After the war Edith and Schiele went back to Vienna and began focusing on his emerging career. His paintings had been considered profound regardless of his chosen subject matter and theme. In the 49th exhibition of the Secession, he submitted 50 of his major works and all of them were exhibited in the main hall. The 1918 Art Exhibition reached new levels of success for Schiele’s career. His market value increased and he became an in-demand portraitist.
Fall of 1918 the Spanish flu raged Europe that claimed millions of lives. Schiele’s wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, died of the said pandemic. Egon Schiele’s death won’t be long as he died three days later of Edith’s repose. Before his wife died, the artist was still able to draw her in what he titled Dying Edith Schiele (1918), which will also serve as his last work.