Monday, October 11, 2010


From Edward Lucie-Smith, "Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists""Egon Schiele was regarded by many of his contemporaries as the predestined successor to Gustav Klimt, but died before he could fulfil his promise. His fascinating but not wholly admirable character is accounted for, at least in part, by his family background and upbringing. His father Adolf worked for the Austrian State Railways, and was in charge of the important station at Tulln where his son was born in June 1890. Since there was no suitable school at Tulln, Schiele was sent away in 1901, first to Krems, then to Klosterneuburg on the northern outskirts of Vienna. In 1904 the whole family followed him there because of his father's deteriorating health. Adolf Schiele's condition soon degenerated into madness, and in the following year he died, aged fifty-four. Schiele afterwards felt that he had had a special relationship with his father.[ ...]He took a dislike to his mother because he felt she did not mourn for his father enough, or give her son the attention he craved.During his late adolescence Schiele's emotions were directed into an intense relationship with his younger sister, Gerti[...] "

"In 1906 Schiele overcame the opposition of his guardian, his mother's brother, and applied for a place at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, where Klimt had once studied. Perhaps those in charge scented a troublesome pupil - in any case they sent him on to the more traditional Academy of Fine Arts. Schiele duly passed the entrance examination, and was admitted at the age of sixteen. The next year he sought out his idol, Klimt, to show him some of his drawings. Did they show talent? 'Yes,' Klimt replied. 'Much too much!' Klimt liked to encourage younger artists, and he continued to take an interest in this gifted young man, buying his drawings, or offering to exchange them for some of his own, arranging models for him and introducing him to potential patrons. He also introduced Schiele to the Wiener Werkstütte, the arts and crafts workshop connected with the Sezession. Schiele did odd jobs for them from 1908 onwards - he made designs for men's clothes, for women's shoes, and drawings for postcards. In 1908 he had his first exhibition, in Klosterneuberg.
In 1909 he left the Academy, after completing his third year. He found a flat and a studio and set up on his own. At this time he showed a strong interest in young girls, who were often the subjects of his drawings." 

"Already a superb draughtsman, Schiele made many drawings from these willing models, some of which were extremely erotic. He seems to have made part of his income by supplying collectors of pornography, who abounded in Vienna at that time. Schiele was also fascinated by his own appearance, and made self-portraits in large numbers. He impressed not only himself, but others with whom he came into contact. The writer Arthur Roessler, one of his staunchest defenders and promoters, described him thus:
Even in the presence of well known men of imposing appearance, Schiele's unusual looks stood out ... He had a tall, slim, supple figure with narrow shoulders, long arms and long-fingered bony hands. His face was sunburned, beardless, and surrounded by long, dark, unruly hair. His broad, angular forehead was furrowed by horizontal lines. The features of his face were usually fixed in an earnest, almost sad expression, as though caused by pains which made him weep inwardly. ... His laconic, aphoristic way of speaking created, in keeping with the way he looked, the impression of an inner nobility that seemed the more convincing because it was obviously natural and in no way feigned.
"During this period, and indeed afterwards, Schiele liked to give an impression of extreme poverty. But his claims that at this time he was virtually in rags are at odds not only with what his contemporaries have to say, but with the photographs taken of him. [...] In 1911 Schiele met the seventeen-year-old Wally Neuzil, who was to live with him for a while and serve as the model for some of his best paintings. Little is known of her, save that she had previously modelled for Klimt, and had perhaps been one of the older painter's mistresses. Schiele and Wally wanted to get out of the claustrophobic Viennese milieu, and went to the small town of Krumau, with which Schiele had family connections, but were drive out by the disapproval of the inhabitants. They then moved to the equally small town of Neulengbach, half an hour from Vienna by train. just as it had been in Vienna, Schiele's studio became a gathering place for all the delinquent children of the neighbourhood. His way of life inevitably aroused animosity, and in April 1912 he was arrested. The police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic, and Schiele was imprisoned, to await trial for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. When the case came before a judge the charges of abduction and seduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting an erotic drawing in a place accessible to children. The twenty-one days he had already spent in custody were taken into account, and he was sentenced to only three days' imprisonment. Though the magistrate made a point of personally burning one of Schiele's drawings before the assembled crowd, he was very lucky to escape so lightly. While he was in prison, he produced a series of self-portrait drawings, inscribed with self-pitying phrases: 'I do not feel punished; rather purified'; 'To restrict the artist is a crime. It is to murder germinating life.' [...] In 1912 he was invited to show at the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne, and he was also taken on by the important dealer Hans Goltz of Munich. [...] The year 1915 marked a turning-point in Schiele's life. Some time in the previous year he had met two middleclass girls who lived opposite his studio. Edith and Adéle were the daughters of a master locksmith. Schiele was attracted to both of them, but eventually fixed his sights on Edith; by April 1915 he was engaged to her, and Wally Neuzil was rather cold-bloodedly dismissed. Schiele's last meeting with Wally took place at their 'local', the Café Eichberger, where he played billiards nearly every day. He handed her a letter in which he proposed that, despite their parting, they take a holiday together every summer - without Edith. Not surprisingly, Wally refused. She joined the Red Cross as a nurse and died of scarlet fever in a military hospital near Split in Dalmatia just before Christmas 1917. Schiele and Edith were married, despite her family's opposition, in June 1915. Schiele's mother was not present."

"Four days after his marriage Schiele was called up. Compared with the majority of his contemporaries, he had an easy war. He was transferred to a detachment transporting Russian prisoners-of-war to and from Vienna, and later became a clerk in a prison camp for Russian officers in Lower Austria. Finally, in January 1917, he was moved to Vienna itself to work for the 'Imperial and Royal Commission for the Army in the Field' - a depot which supplied food, drink, tobacco and other comforts to the Austrian army. In a country where food was increasingly short, it was a privileged place to be.
Schiele's army service did not halt the growth of his reputation - he was now thought of as the leading Austrian artist of the younger generation, and was asked to take part in a government-sponsored exhibition in Stockholm and Copenhagen intended to improve Austria's image with the neutral Scandinavian powers. In 1918 he was invited to be a major participant in the Sezession's 49th exhibition. For this he produced a poster design strongly reminiscent of the Last Supper, with his own portrait in the place of Christ. Despite the war, the show was a triumph. Prices for Schiele's drawing trebled, and he was offered many portrait commissions. He and Edith moved to a new and grander house and studio. Their pleasure in it was brief. On 19 October 1918 Edith, who was pregnant, fell ill with Spanish influenza, then sweeping Europe. On 28 October she died. [...] Almost immediately he came down with the same sickness, and died on 31 October, three days after his wife."
- From Edward Lucie-Smith, "Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists"

I went to Vienna this summer to see Schiele's work in real life. See the pictures I took in the Leopold Museum here:

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