I will admit, I am not the greatest fan of Egon Schiele, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate his work. This appreciation was strengthen recently as I was researching for an article else where. I was very much aware of his art work but had not realised just how young he was or his background.
Schiele is noted as being an odd child, quiet and reserved in his behaviour. His father was a station master, and Schiele spent many hours drawing trains, to the point that his father felt it necessary to destroy the sketch books so that the boy would concentrate on his studies. In school, he only did well in athletics and art, lacking interest in the other subject. There was controversy over the relationship that he had with his younger sister, Gerti, which would see the pair go off one night to spend it in a hotel room without permission.
At 15, Schiele’s father died of syphilis and he became the ward of his uncle, who also worked for the railway. Desperate for Schiele to follow in his footsteps, his uncle became increasingly distressed with his lack of interesting in academia, but did recognise that he had a talent in drawing. Begrudgingly he got young Schiele an art tutor.
Schiele applied to the School of Arts and Crafts, and after only a year, several of his teachers insisted that he be sent to the Academy of Fine Arts. Gustav Klimt had studied here previously.
Schiele was the youngest student to be accepted in to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 16. Here he became increasingly frustrated with the strict, conservative style being taught and he left after three years.
From here he sought out Klimt, as he had heard that he mentored young artists and Klimt took Schiele under his wing and in fact became his biggest supporter, introducing him to clients and either buying or swapping art work with him. In early Schiele work you can see the influence of Klimt, but he very quickly discovered and honed his own style.
Schiele participated in many exhibits and as his style developed, his themes became more complex, looking at subjects such as death and rebirth.
Schiele’s love life was complicated, living with a woman who was also a model for him, who also inspired some of his most striking art work, before deciding to marry someone else called Edith. He was also arrested for seducing girls under the age of consent and hundreds of his pictures were seized and classed as pornographic. The case of seduction was dropped, but he was sentenced for displaying erotic pictures where minors could see them. The judge notable burnt one of his drawings over a candle in court.
While in prison, Schiele created 12 drawing of the discomfort and difficulties of being locked in a cell.
Three days after he was married, he was called up to service for the army during WWI, and was originally stationed in Prague. His wife came with him and stayed in a hotel nearby, and his art work was still being exhibited at the time in Berlin.
Eventually Schiele was given a clerks job in a prisoner of war camp, due to his weak heart and excellent hand writing, and here he drew Russian captives, his commander even gave Schiele an old store room to use as a studio. Schiele was in charge of the food store, so he and his wife enjoyed food beyond the rationings that were about at the time.
In 1918 both Schiele and his wife died from the Spanish flu pandemic which claimed 20 million lives in Europe. His wife died first, she was six months pregnant. Schiele died three days later, in those three days without her, he drew some sketches of her. Schiele was 28.
Schiele’s traumatic life seemed to be echoed in his art work. His figures drawn with twisted bodies and unclear lines. His work was met with mixed reviews, as some saw it as erotic, pornographic, lewd and grotesque, while others saw it as raw and intense. His subjects varied, but he did paint a lot of nudes, in many different poses, including masturbatory positions.
The above drawing, Seated woman with bents knees, while not a nude, nor pornographic beautifully represents Schiele style. The woman is still erotically posed with her legs apart, clutching one knee to close to her, head rested on it. Her eyes looking straight at the artist, rather than the demur, traditional pose of a female in art.
Whether you love or hate Schiele, you do need to admire his determination for his art work despite his rather questionable ethics. Constantly producing, right up to his death.
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