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By Blagoy Kiroff
Egon Schiele: 190 Master Drawings and Prints
Copyright © 2015 Blagoy Kiroff
Drawing and Prints
Egon Schiele (1890 - 1918) was an Austrian painter, a protégé of Gustav Klimt and important figurative painter of the early 20th century. The twisted body shapes and the expressive line that characterize his paintings and drawings mark the artist as one an earliest exponent of Expressionism. In Schiele’s early years, he was strongly influenced by Klimt and Kokoschka but soon evolved into his own characteristic style. Some critics view Schiele's work as being grotesque, erotic, pornographic, or disturbing, focusing on sex, death, and discovery. Shiele answered to them in that way:
“To restrict the artist is a crime. It is to murder germinating life“.
He was born in 1890 in Lower Austria as the third child in his family. His father was a rail-road civil servant who died in 1905. His uncle became his protector but did not support his artistic career. Nevertheless, Schiele entered the academy in Vienna where he quickly ran into difficulties with his teacher, the then famous Professor Griepenkerl.
In 1907 he met Gustav Klimt, whom he admired, who assisted him in obtaining his first commissions and who influenced his early drawing style. Following Klimt's suggestion, Schiele entered four paintings in the Vienna International Exhibition of 1909, where works by Oskar Kokoschka and Vincent Van Gogh were also shown. In the same year he left the academy and, with other young artists, formed the short-lived artist group "Neukunstgruppe"; however, the first exhibition was not successful. By 1910 he had found his own style with its strong emphasis on the contour line and vibrant colors.
In 1911 he moved to the small town of Krumau, where he painted a number of townscapes. His lifestyle caused problems in the town and he moved with his model Wally Neuziel to Neulengbach where in 1912 he was arrested and charged with immorality and seduction. Some of his drawings were confiscated; one was even burned by the judge in the courtroom. He spent 24 traumatic days in jail and returned to Vienna upon his release.
His first important exhibitions were held in Germany: in 1913 in the famous Galerie Goltz in Munich and in the Folkwangmuseum in Hagen, followed by one-man exhibits in Hamburg, Breslau, Stuttgart, and Berlin, where the Expressionist journal Die Aktion published his drawings as well as his poetry. In 1915 he married Edith Harms, and a few days later he was drafted into the army. After having been assigned to guard Russian prisoners of war, the Die Aktion journal published a special issue with his drawings and the Berlin Sezession exhibited his works.
In 1917 he was transferred to the Army Museum in Vienna, which provided him with some time to paint again. A portfolio of 12 drawing reproductions was published. He was invited to participate in exhibits in Munich, Dresden, Amsterdam, and Stockholm, but his poverty remained unchanged. The first truly great success came in 1918 with his exhibit at the Vienna Secession (no less than 19 paintings and several drawings). He received a number of commissions, and 25 of his works were exhibited in Zurich. Shortly thereafter, however, his wife—who was expecting a child-died of the Spanish influenza epidemic, and three days later the artist succumbed to the same disease.
Schiele's dominating theme was the human body, which he depicts in truly singular forms. Likewise in his paintings of children he emphasized their awkward bodies and their earnest eyes, and yet, the impact of these works on the viewer is very strong because the depictions are forthright and direct. Even his marvelous townscapes frequently lack perspective dimensions and let the windows of the houses appear like blind eyes; they are expressions of the artist's mood more than topographical depictions; they are images of fall—with isolated, dry trees standing in the cold wind.
Schiele's symbolic works, such as "Death and the Maiden," "The Hermits," or even such seemingly happy themes as "Mother with Two Children," show the same penetrating insight for which his portraits have become famous. His many self-portraits are proof of his continuous struggle with what he considered the soul of the arts: the depiction of that truth which lies below the surface. While the subject matter seems to be depressing, his works prove otherwise. The extraordinary ability to form the three dimensional body through dominating contour lines, his choice of very strong and forthright colors, the frequently ambiguous spaces, and his extraordinary sensitivity, which transforms even a seemingly quick drawing into a complete work of art, have allowed Schiele's fame to continue to grow.
He focused on portraits of others as well as himself. In his later years, while he still worked often with nudes, they were done in a more realist fashion. Schiele made many drawings, some of which were extremely erotic. During his short but highly prolific career which ended with his premature death, Schiele created more than three thousand works on paper and approximately three hundred paintings.
With his signature graphic style, embrace of figural distortion, and bold defiance of conventional norms of beauty, Egon Schiele was one of the leading figures of Austrian Expressionism.
Portrait Of A Woman (Lilly Steiner)
Watercolour and black crayon on paper