Table of Contents
Who is Egon Scheele?
Portrait of Gerti Scheele
It’s a dead mother
A female figure without clothing
Self-Portrait using Physalis
The Maiden and Death
Edith Schiele’s work was renowned in her lifetime. She was a highly esteemed artist who produced many celebrated pieces.
Who is Egon Scheele?
Every generation has its punks. Musicians, writers, and artists are all part of the generation that has their punks. Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter, is one such controversial and memorable personality. He is best known for his 20th century Expressionist painting. His striking style, controversial biography and explicit female nudes make him an important influence on Expressionists.
While his self-portraits of himself are definitely notable, Schiele’s most famous work is his sexually provocative female nudes. Schiele was a prolific painter who used oil, watercolor and gouache. Many of his pencil and crayon drawings, as well as ink and crayon sketches, are still preserved today. He worked with paper and wood, as well as using multiple mediums. Sometimes, he painted on top of drawings that he had already drawn. Schiele’s distinctive style is the most well-known and most celebrated. His ghastly style, which includes long, sharp brush strokes and disorienting foreshortening, is as distinctive as his art. Schiele’s family was originally from Tulln in Austria. His father was the station master for the town’s railway station. His father was a station master at Tulln, Austria. Schiele, a young artist, was so obsessed with trains that he felt the need to burn his sketchbooks. His mother lost many of her siblings in tragic circumstances. She had to deal with the deaths of two of her children, one at birth, and another at ten. Schiele had two older sisters, Melanie and Gertrude. Historians are most interested in the relationship of Schiele with his younger sister Gertrude (Lucie Smith, Lives). “Gerti” is believed to have been Schiele’s first model. Gerti later married Anton Peschka (Steiner, Egon Schiele). Schiele, who was 15 years old, lost his father to syphilis. His maternal uncle Leopold Czihaczec made him a ward. His uncle saw his artistic talents and in 1906 enrolled him at Vienna’s School of Arts and Crafts. Gustav Klimt, the school from which Schiele would eventually be taken under his wing, had graduated from in 1883. Schiele was, however, transferred to Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts at the request of his teachers within one year. After three years of frustration with the conservatism at his new school, Schiele quit and founded the “New Art Group” in 1909. He wrote a manifesto condemning Academy principles and exhibited work independently at Kunstsalon Pisko. Schiele studied with Gustav Klimt, the famed Art Nouveau painter. Klimt has a reputation for mentoring young artists. Schiele found Klimt and he was able to show Schiele his work as well as provide models. Klimt was crucial to Schiele’s artistic development. He exposed Schiele to his own work as well as that of Georges Minne (Artbios), and Van Gogh (Van Gogh). Schiele’s unique style is often influenced by Klimt’s. Schiele was free to abandon the preconceived notions of his former teachers, and began to explore death and sexuality in explicit, often even offensive detail. Schiele, now 21-years-old, fell in amour with Valery “Wally”, 17, in 1911. Wally, originally photographed for Klimt, became the inspiration for much of Schiele’s work. The young couple moved to Krumau in Bohemia where Schiele’s mother was born (Steiner, Egon Schiele). The young couple lived happily in Vienna. However, there was much criticism for Schiele’s lifestyle and his use of young girls from the area as models (Davies – “A Legendary Laid Bare”) Wally and Schiele moved to Neulengbach in Austria where Schiele was able to establish a studio in 1912. Their home quickly became a refuge for young criminals (Artbios). Neulengbach, who was just as critical of Schiele as Krumau’s conduct, criticized his insensitivity towards young girls and exposed explicit art to the children of the area. Schiele was convicted of statutory rape in April 1912, was taken into custody, and kept in prison for around a month. (Davies. “A Legend Bare”) Over 100 drawings, which were considered pornographic, were taken from Schiele’s home. A magistrate even burned one of them (Lucie Smith, Lives). After the release of the artist, Wally and Schiele returned to Vienna. The Harms family was wealthy and moved into the area. Schiele became quickly infatuated with Edith, then 16, and Adele, now 17. The artist wanted to marry Edith her younger sister. This was despite the disapproval of her parents. Edith was adamant about monogamy, and Wally agreed. Wally was not able to hear Schiele’s account of the situation and she immediately left Wally. Edith and Schiele married June 1915. Schiele was only four days away from their wedding when he reported for service, but he did not see combat (Artbios). The artist was stationed at Prague to guard Russian prisoners, but he was able paint and draw along with Edith. Both were soon back in Vienna, though they had not been affected by WWI. However, both would be killed by the Spanish influenza. Edith, six months pregnant, died October 28, 1918 from the disease. Schiele made a few sketches about Edith before he died, aged 28. His work captures the controversial and turbulent life of Schiele. Schiele’s strange exaggeration and deranged color choices and bizarre anatomy are well complimented by his skillful use of composition and line. His inventive use of perspective and line allows him to create a disconcerting atmosphere with his paintings. While his early death was a tragedy, his willingness to experiment with sexuality and death is a significant contribution to art history. Schiele’s avant-garde approach is what set modern art apart from other art forms. His unique distortions and violent use of paint are reflected in the work many Neo-Expressionists such as Lubomir Takacik and Francis Bacon. He also shares the unapologetic sexuality of his works with 20th-century painters Jean-Michel Basquait (and Keith Harring). His many and well-documented contributions make Schiele an important part of 20th Century Expressionism. He was not a long-lived man, but his gritty sexuality is still a hallmark of 20th century Expressionism. His work is treasured by historians, artists, and even aesthetes today. Let’s not forget that we all were once punks. Portrait of Gerti SchilleThe artist’s sibling sits, her feet in the air. To smile at herself, she turns her back to the viewer. The background is completely empty and her silhouette becomes the main focal point. Schiele uses deliberate line work, coloring and a flat rendering to suggest planar variations. This unique piece of art is distinguished by its unusual cropping, and unnaturally gold tones. Schiele was already working closely for two years with Gustav Klimt (Art Nouveau fame), at this time. Klimt is a significant influence on Schiele’s style. Schiele’s flat renderings of the figure and extended figures are reminiscent of Klimt’s. Schiele’s use of intricate patterning and golden tones to embellish his subjects is a further influence. Schiele isn’t directly copying Klimt’s work. Schiele’s mentor did a lot more than Schiele, but his figures were not always floating in space. Gerti’s clothing, although simplified to just a few forms, is designed to complement her body and enhance the form. Klimt, on the other side, dwarfed Klimt’s figures with brightly colored robes. This often obscured their faces and hands. Schiele’s mentor used a subtler, silvery color scheme. Schiele was close to his sister and many would call it too close. Gerti was his childhood best friend and first model. This painting clearly shows Schiele’s love and devotion to Gerti. The beautiful and elegant, golden-colored figure of Gerti is beautifully rendered. Her idealized smile is a shy, charmant smile. Schiele often exaggerates the features of his models until they look cartoonish. Schiele did not want to include any other elements in the composition, so the emphasis is only on the central figure. This composition does not display the famous Schiele’s grotesque exaggeration in anatomy. We see a young, beautiful woman smiling at herself in a happy, small moment. Dead Mother ITwo’s distorted and distressing figures wrap around each others in a canvas of nondescript, black brushstrokes. A frail, deformed woman wraps her arms around a womb and rests her head. She gazes inexorably at the center, where a fetal figure bulges upwards from a narrow window. Two hands floating close to it, apparently too big for the figure they must be, appear out of place. The figure looks almost like it is smiling, and almost stares out at the viewer. This piece is clearly expressionist due to the incredibly exaggerated figures and violent brush strokes. Gerti’s flat, graphic patterns and delicate patterns are not present. Klimt is still evident in Schiele’s distortion of form. It is possible that thickly applied paint was inspired by Van Gogh’s work, which Schiele had paid tribute to with his sunflower series. Van Gogh’s short and almost pointillist strokes of paint have been replaced by long, straight strokes. The meaning of Dead Mother is rich and intentional. Schiele’s depiction of the fetus is, though ghastly, clearly alive. The central form of Schiele’s composition is unique in that it is painted with bright reds, oranges and other vivid colors. The contrast between the dark greenish black tones and the blood flowing through its small body could be almost seen. The mother stands around the womb, looking down at him. She then looks down at him with emotionless eyes. What was Schiele trying with this bizarre piece? His family’s many tragedies with babies and children led him to be inspired. One sister died while pregnant, another died at birth and his mother even gave birth to a stillborn baby boy. It is easy to see his inspiration, but what about the meaning? Is it an innocent form that is being held captive by a cold mother? Or does it take her life? It looks literally like it has blood on her hands. Dead Mother I is one of many series Schiele created throughout his career. It begins with his iconic Madonna and Child 1908 painting. Schiele used similar themes and symbolism to paint disturbing images of young children and infants, often with ominous or dead mothers. Schiele clearly understood the importance of Schiele’s personal meaning. It is difficult to explain the grotesque and beautiful painting. The meaning of each piece can only be discovered on an individual level. This work, which is deeply personal, resonates with its viewer, and will remain open to interpretation for many more years. Female NudeA lady lies down on her stomach, staring at us from a white canvas. This picture has a strange cropping. Schiele deliberately cut the legs of the woman and created an asymmetrical composition. Schiele isn’t finished the figure here. Her legs are severed at the knees. Schiele doesn’t even have arms. It isn’t a complete drawing. Schiele emphasizes the subtle color and reflected sunlight of her abdomen. To set the figure apart from the rest of his page, Schiele highlights it with a brightly colored outline. His use of short radial strokes and white paint to highlight the hair of the woman is an amazing detail. This is typical Schiele’s feminine nudes. The artist was studying under Klimt at the time and he likely gave him the model. This piece is typical of Klimt’s figure drawings and displays a strong sexuality. Schiele is known for his unusual angles. The pose forces viewers to gaze up at her, with her legs slightly spread and suggesting her hips opening towards them. Her body, especially her breasts, are radiantly glowing and she gazes confidently at the audience. The piece is objectifying in that Schiele has chosen to show only her torso, ignoring her limbs and simplifying her features. It’s hard not to think of a carved piece or meat when Schiele renders the female form. The drawing is even more tame than Schiele’s other female nudes that were more focused on the genitals. Schiele’s work reflects his eroticism. This is why he faced public outrage and censorship throughout the course of his career. However, it is nice to see his themes come up again and be able to group them in limited categories. Self-Portrait of Schiele with PhysalisSchiele is seen looking out at us from above, his head tilted towards the sky and his shoulders angled in a delicate way. The background is mostly abstract, with the orange plant to the left creating an even more asymmetrical composition. You can see the rest of his work through his delicate and sparse outlining. Schiele’s brush strokes were often very deliberate, but there’s something special about how he uses paint. His face is balanced by the more subtle strokes of his background. Schiele’s shirt color is a patterned, almost angular shape that brings life to an otherwise uninteresting and formless shape. Schiele’s self-portraits are probably his most famous work. Many times Schiele showed himself in different ways. Schiele’s 1912 Self-Portrait is a typical example of his pose and expression. It is notable that Schiele used a complete image with a background and textured brush strokes, something not common. While he is working across the entire canvas he maintains the emptiness and balance of his paper drawings. Schiele’s self-portrait exudes confidence and almost seems to be preening within the canvas. The audience is viewed from his nose. Yet, Schiele manages to keep an open mind and look at them. It is easy to compare his expression and pose to a selfie of today, especially considering the curious, youthful mood he embodies. Schiele was a pioneer of his time, but perhaps he could have adapted to today’s media-based and appearance-based culture. Death and the Maiden. Many of Schieles paintings are haunting and eerie, but few paintings compare to Death and the Maiden. The backdrop is a white cloth, which provides a background to the two mud-painted figures. They hug one another and seem almost weightless. They are seen teetering dangerously on an abstractly drawn cliff. The perspective of this piece is not very clear. Our subjects are not able to sit in rational spaces. The figures are not supported by their own weight. The woman lies on her stomach, but her body is not able to move in a rational manner. His elongated shape seems to wrap around her. The expression of the man is haunting. Although his whole body is in a reaction to the woman he is involved with, his eyes seem distant and almost unseeing. This is a sign of shock or great mourning. The woman’s eyes are obscured by her bangs, so we can’t see them. Despite looking away from her figure, we can still clearly see her sharp mouth. This piece is very similar to Ilya Repin’s 1885 Ivan the Terrible killing his Son. It depicts the aftermath of tragedy and great violence. Schiele’s style is evident by this point. His dark brush strokes and distortion of anatomy give this piece an unmistakable Schiele look. However, Klimt’s influence can be seen even here. Klimt’s rectangular, abstract pattern is evident in the woman’s gown. Schiele allows men to feel lost in the robes. This is because Schiele emphasizes only the areas where the body isn’t covered, which in this case would be the head as well as the hands and legs. This was a Klimt-inspired idea that remained with Schiele through his entire life. Many of the paintings were infused with deep personal meanings. Death and The Maiden in this instance represents heartbreak and profound loss. Wally Schiele’s lover stood by him through many trials and public condemnation. The artist nevertheless chose to marry a more respected woman. When Schiele suggested that Wally keep him as his mistress, while he married Edith Harms in 1914, his ex-lover left him. It is evident that this piece was the result of her death. Schiele becomes Death, a grieving and corpselike thing who clings tightly to his young Maiden. His expression is filled with anguish, regret and sadness. There is still distance between the figures even though they are in an embrace. Wally’s legs turn away from Schiele while his arms reach up to touch him. This is symbolic of their distance and how Schiele had taken away what was most important to him. Schiele’s grungy colours and brushstrokes combined with the broken and disarrayed rocks make the painting cry out for help. This painting is more than two lovers holding hands. Edith SchieleLittle More than a sketch. Edith sits off center on a piece of paper. The tired Edith Schiele leans back, watching the audience and resting a grubby hand on her forehead. Visibly, her wedding band sits on her finger. The piece is complete except for her collar and possibly the beginning of an arm. Schiele only uses actual lines to create this image. There is no shading or color. His strokes get looser with Edith’s hair, and they become blurred lines rather than forms. Edith seems to be taking a snap of Edith as she looks up from her phone. Edith still has something more in her eyes. Edith’s eyes appear hooded and unfocused. The lines around her eyes clearly show her exhaustion. Edith Schiele’s final portrait is haunting. It was drawn on the day that Edith died. Within three days of each another, the young couple were both struck by influenza in 1918. Edith was six-months pregnant with their child, and Schiele’s parents struggled with pregnancy. Edith’s death was almost poetic. Edith was the one who matured Schiele’s work. His work, which was often sexually explicit, mainly relating to female forms and figures, gained weight and mass that they didn’t have in his earlier work. His paintings often featured couples, probably portraits of himself or his wife. They depicted women as strong and mature and men as weak, sexually inept beings. Edith was his favourite subject. He preferred to portray Edith as beautiful and idealized than the unflattering caricatures that he became famous for. It is not surprising that Schiele would sketch Edith, his wife, just three days before he died. Schiele doesn’t focus on his own grieving and loss like Death and The Maiden. He shifts the emphasis more freely to those who have passed. This isn’t the frantic dismay a lover would scorn. It is, instead, a tribute to Schiele’s wife and her death. As his audiences, we are given the chance to recall the couple’s lives through this final work.