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Egon Schiele

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Egon Schiele. Expressionism. Self-portrait 1907.

Schiele, Egon (1890-1918), was an Austrian painter, draftsman, and printmaker, known for his paintings of angular, anguished figures. His nudes have a frankly sexual quality despite the awkwardness of their lonely, emaciated forms. 

In his many self-portraits, contorted figures crouch in uncomfortable positions, starkly framed against blank backgrounds, with limbs cut off by the edges of the picture. Schiele drew these works using simple ink lines accented with blotches of watercolors that suggest diseased flesh. 

  • Egon Schiele. Self-portrait created 1907, when the artist was only 17 years old. 
Schiele’s work helped define an Austrian version of expressionism, an art movement that had recently gained hold in Germany. Expressionism advocated distortion or exaggeration to express a personal or emotional vision. 

Schiele’s interest in expressionism was inspired by the work of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, the French artist Paul Gauguin, and the German expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), with whom he exhibited briefly in 1912. 

  • Austria 2005. Row of Houses, Krumau. From the series "Dead Cities". 

Born in Tullin, near Vienna, Schiele was accepted to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 16. In 1907 Schiele became a close friend and admirer of the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Schiele’s early work emulated Klimt’s elegantly ornamental art nouveau style. 

Although this influence remained evident in the decorative patterns with which Schiele depicted clothing and landscapes, Schiele soon developed his own more expressive style of distorted outlines. In 1909 Schiele led a small group of students who sought creative freedom from the Academy and formed the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group). That same year Schiele showed several paintings at Vienna’s International Art Exhibition of 1909, at the age of just 19. 

  • Austria 1990.  100th birth anniversary of Egon Schiele.  Self Portrait. 

Egon Schiele. Expressionism. Nude with coloured cloth. 1911.

In 1911 Schiele moved to the town of Krumau (now Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic), where he painted self-portraits, nudes, and landscapes. 

Paintings of children -- nude or clothed -- occupy a great part of Schiele's artistic universe, and his drawings of young children certainly had a distinct erotic nature, that came very close to pornography. 

At that time in Austria masturbation was considered a mental disorder that should be fought with all means possible, and for the same reason there was undoubtedly a market that favoured such art. It was believed that young children of both sexes were continuously living in his studio, mainly for earning a living through sitting. From the young nudes' faces the viewer perceives their discomfort of coming of age, at the same time experiencing their growing sexuality. 

Local residents objected to the sexuality of his drawings, and after only three months he moved to Neulengbach, near Vienna. Schiele’s disturbingly erotic works and use of very young girls for models led to his arrest and brief imprisonment in 1912 for corruption of minors. 

  • Nude with coloured cloth, created 1911 with pencil and tempera on paper. Private collection, Vienna. Scan from Mini Art Guide "Schiele", Könemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Danish edition, ISBN 3-8290-4519-9. 
Schiele then returned to Vienna, but his time in prison left him bitter and pessimistic. In an exhibition poster he designed in 1914, he portrayed himself as Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows, a symbol of the persecution he felt society had inflicted on him. 

Schiele’s marriage to Edith Harms in 1915 inspired a change of mood, which he expressed in large paintings of embracing couples. Schiele died at age 28 in the massive influenza epidemic of 1918, which also claimed his pregnant wife Edith and his friend and mentor, Gustav Klimt. 

  • Austria 1969.  200 years of the Albertina Collection, Vienna.  The Artist's Wife (Edith Harms). 

Art historians, like the renowned Otto Benesch, saw that Schiele's works were purchased for public collections, and also that the private Schiele-collector, Max Wagner, handed over over his collection to the Albertina Museum's graphic art department. In 1945 the first Schiele-exhibition was arranged in New York, and Schiele gained posthumous fame. 

Egon Schiele. Expressionism. Reclining Male Nude. 1911.

During Schiele's extremely short career he produced around 300 paintings, and more than 3000 drawings, water colours and gouaches. The better part of his works are extremely sensitive to natural light, and it is therefore always a big cultural event, when such works are presented to the public on exhibitions. Thus the Albertina Museum in Vienna always oversees and inspects any public exhibition of his works throughout the world. This was also the case, when such an exhibition took place in Copenhagen in 2002, whene works by Schiele, Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka were on exhibit. The exhibition catalogue is quoted below. 

To the best of my knowledge the three art stamps on this page are the only Schiele-stamps issued. 

Sources and links:

Other Expressionist artists on this site: 

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