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Schiele, Egon (1890–1918) By Jordan, Sharon

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM2087-1
Published: 18/04/2019
Retrieved: 25 August 2019, from
https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/schiele-egon-1890-1918

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Abstract

Egon Schiele is one of the most original artists of the early 20th century and a major figure associated with the stylistic movement, Expressionism. He has a unique linear technique that conveys a heightened energy or dynamic intensity, to which chromatic dissonance is frequently added with the application of watercolour.

The majority of Schiele’s artworks explore extreme facets of the human experience expressed through the human body, with external physical appearances serving as expressions of an existential reality or an internal state of being. With his interest in psychological and sexual subject matter, he is aligned with Oskar Kokoscha, the other foremost representative of Austrian Expressionism.

Egon Schiele is one of the most original artists of the early 20th century and a major figure associated with the stylistic movement, Expressionism. He has a unique linear technique that conveys a heightened energy or dynamic intensity, to which chromatic dissonance is frequently added with the application of watercolour.

The majority of Schiele’s artworks explore extreme facets of the human experience expressed through the human body, with external physical appearances serving as expressions of an existential reality or an internal state of being. Owing to his interest in psychological and sexual subject matter, he is aligned with Oskar Kokoscha, the other foremost representative of Austrian Expressionism.

In order to study facial expression, gesture, and pose, and seeking to delve beneath surface appearances to uncover psychological truths, Schiele did many expressive self-portraits. These contributed to perceptions of him as defiant and rebellious, and as someone who suffered for his art.

Early life and work

Schiele was born in Tulln, a small Austrian town, in 1890. His father passed syphilis on to his wife early in their marriage. Physical manifestations of disease are seen frequently in Schiele’s work in his use of emaciated figures and putrescent colours. At one time, the artist visited the morgue to do sketches and like his mentor, Gustav Klimt, he did a series of women with heavily pregnant bodies, seeking them out at a charity hospital in Vienna.

From Klimt, Schiele learned contour and linear complexity, leading to a stylistic progression in his work away from flat, decorative forms associated with Jugendstil Art Nouveau to highly structured paintings and a unique linear quality in his figural drawings.

Scandal

In 1911 Schiele and his companion Wally Neuzil, one of Klimt’s former models, moved to Krumau, his mother’s birthplace in Bohemia. Initially, Schiele was fond of the small Gothic town situated on a picturesque river bend, which inspired many landscapes and cityscapes.

Soon, the prejudices of the local population towards the free-spirited, unmarried couple forced them to move to nearby Neulengbach. There, Schiele was imprisoned for a 24-day period on unsubstantiated charges of seducing a minor. Although the charges were unfounded, the possibility of an extended prison term weighed heavily on him as he awaited trial, as seen in the self-portraits made during his ordeal. He was eventually charged with exposing minors to pornography, in the form of his own drawings, and one of them was burned during the court’s proceedings.

Solace

In 1915 Schiele married Edith Harms. This was the beginning of an increasingly optimistic phase in his personal life, despite difficulties caused by the onset of the First World War. Schiele was initially sent to Prague, but was soon able to secure a post in Vienna. While guarding the transport of Russian prisoners-of-war, Schiele made a series of portraits that typify the power of his images in cataloguing personality and emotional states of being. These, along with his series of pregnant woman, reflect the humanistic interest that underlies his work, but which is frequently overshadowed by its strong erotic and sexual content.

Inspired by his new companion and the reality of a stable home life, Schiele embarked on a series of large-scale oil paintings that ushered in a long-awaited period of critical praise, including a triumphant reception for 19 of his works, including Embrace (The Lovers) (1917), at the 49th Secession exhibition in March 1918. Schiele’s hopes for the future, seen in The Family (1918) were short-lived; in October, six months pregnant with their first child, Edith died from the epidemic of Spanish influenza sweeping through Europe, and three days later Schiele himself died.

Legacy

Schiele’s outsize influence in relation to his short life continues to be felt to this day. Owing to the revolutionary frankness of his highly sexualised, psychologically probing imagery, coupled with his early tragic death at the age of 28, Schiele is often seen as a misunderstood, rebellious or suffering artist, much like Vincent Van Gogh, one of his early influences. The stylised appearance of his drawings, together with his personal notoriety, has been very influential on 20th-century music, film, fashion, photography, and the fine arts.

Timeline

1890 Egon Schiele is born in Tulln, Austria.

1905 His father dies and his uncle becomes his guardian.

1906 He is accepted into the Academy, the youngest student in his class at the age of 16, and studies there until 1909.

1907 Schiele meets Gustav Klimt. He journeys to Trieste several times with his younger sister Gertrude.

1909 The Kunstschau exhibition organised by Klimt marks his Viennese debut, represented by four paintings; he organises an exhibition group called the Neukunstgruppe and writes a manifesto for the group, which is published in the popular art journal Die Aktion.

1911 He moves with Wally Neuzil, his mistress, to Krumau, Bohemia, his mother’s birthplace; in autumn 1911 the couple move to Neulengbach, 30 kilometers west of Vienna.

1912 He is arrested on charges of seducing a minor. The couple had taken in a 13-year-old runaway, and her father, a retired naval officer, files a charge of abduction.

1912 In March and April he spends 24 days in prison pending trial.

1912 He exhibits at the Munich Secession and the Sonderbund exhibition in Cologne; returns to Vienna and establishes a new studio.

1914 He moves to new studio; meets Edith Harms.

1915 In May he marries Edith; he is declared fit for service, and has to report for duty at the end of June.

1916 Die Aktion journal publishes a Schiele issue, containing six drawings and featuring a self-portrait on the title page.

1918 In March he receives praise for the exhibition of paintings at the 49th Secession exhibition.

1918 In October Edith dies from Spanish influenza. Three days later, Schiele, at the age of 28, also dies and is buried on 3 November.

Further reading

  • Egon Schiele: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections (2005) Munich andNew York: Prestel.

  • Kallir, J. (1990) Egon Schiele: The Complete Works catalogue raisonné. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

  • Leopold, R. (2010) Egon Schiele Landscapes, Munich andNew York: Prestel.

  • Schröder, K.A. (2005) Egon Schiele, Vienna andMunich: Albertina and Prestel Verlag.

  • Vergo, P. (1981) Art in Vienna 1898–1918: Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele and their Contemporaries, London: Phaidon.

  • Vienna, M.D. (2009) Egon Schiele: The Leopold Collection, Munich andNew York: Prestel.

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Published

18/04/2019

Article DOI

10.4324/9781135000356-REM2087-1

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Citing this article:

Jordan, Sharon. "Schiele, Egon (1890–1918)." The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism. : Taylor and Francis, 2016. Date Accessed 25 Aug. 2019 https://www.rem.routledge.com/articles/schiele-egon-1890-1918. doi:10.4324/9781135000356-REM2087-1

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