"Art cannot be modern. Art is primordially eternal."
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. His portraits and self-portraits—searing explorations of their sitters' psyches and sexuality—are among the most remarkable of the twentieth century. The artist, who was astoundingly prolific during his brief career, is famous not only for his psychologically and erotically charged oeuvre but for his intriguing biography: his licentious lifestyle marked by scandal, notoriety, and a tragically early death of influenza at age twenty-eight, three days after the death of his pregnant wife, and at a time when he was on the verge of the commercial success that had eluded him for much of his career.
EGON SCHIELE BIOGRAPHY
Egon Schiele was born into modest means in Tulln an der Donau ("on the Danube"), a small but vibrant Austrian town also known as Blumenstadt, or "city of flowers." He was the third child born to Adolf Schiele, who worked as a stationmaster for the Austrian State Railways, and Marie Soukupova, who originally hailed from the Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov (Krumau), now the site of the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, a museum dedicated primarily to the artist's work. Schiele had two older sisters, Melanie and Gerti (Gertrude), the latter of whom often modeled for Schiele and eventually married Schiele's close friend, the painter Anton Peschka.
Although Schiele was never a prolific student, one of his primary school arts instructors recognized a natural gift for draughtsmanship in Schiele and encouraged him to pursue formal training. Following his father's death from syphilis, and having been placed under the guardianship of his uncle and godfather, Leopold Czihaczek, in 1906 Schiele enrolled in Vienna's Akademie der bildenden Kunste (Academy of Fine Arts), whichhad also attended.
In 1907, Schiele sought out Klimt, whose work he already greatly admired, and the two quickly formed a mentor-mentee relationship that would have a major impact on the young artist's early development. Klimt not only exerted his influence over Schiele in the studio, but also in introducing Schiele to patrons, models, and the work of other artists—such as, , and —about whom Schiele, despite being a devoted art student, had little occasion to learn, given Vienna's relative isolation from European avant-garde movements during this time. Through Klimt, Schiele was also introduced to the , the arts and crafts workshops of the Vienna Secession, a movement that had close ties to other modern art styles of the period.
In 1908, when Schiele was eighteen, he participated in his first exhibition, a group showing in Klosterneuburg, a small town to the north of Vienna. The following year, Schiele and a few fellow students left the Academy in protest, citing the school's conservative teaching methods and its failure to embrace more forward-thinking artistic practices that were sweeping through Europe. As part of this rebellion, Schiele founded the Neuekunstgruppe (New Art Group), composed of other young, dissatisfied artists defecting from the Academy.
The new group didn't waste any time, holding several public exhibitions throughout Vienna, all the while Schiele was exploring new modes of painterly expression, favoring distortions and jagged contours of form and a more somber palette than that of the more decorative and ornatestyle. Essentially, Schiele was gradually distancing himself from the style popularized by Klimt, although the two men would remain close until Klimt's death in early 1918. If the content of Schiele's work is any indication, it appears that the mentor and mentee shared an insatiable appetite for women.
Shortly after forming the Neuekunstgruppe, Schiele began enjoying modest success as a painter and draughtsman, and in 1911 he had his first solo exhibition, at Vienna's Galerie Miethke, where the artist's increasing penchant for self-portraiture and sexualized—often approaching lewd—studies of young women were on display. Schiele's early studies were also controversial for his occasional use of children as nude models; that same year, Schiele lived briefly in his mother's hometown of Krumau in Southern Bohemia, where his practice of having young children visit his studio attracted disapproval from the local townspeople.
The following year was a crucial one for Schiele, both personally and artistically. In addition to participating in a number of group exhibitions—in Budapest, Cologne, and Vienna—Schiele was invited by Galerie Hans Goltz in Munich to show his work alongside members of thegroup of , which included , , and . Among Schiele's works at this time was his most famous with Chinese Lantern Plant (1912), a captivating study of the artist, his face and other features replete with lines, scars, and subtle deformities. The Goltz show provided Schiele with his greatest exposure to date, revealing his rich use of personal symbolism and dark allegory to the public.
Also in 1912, while living in the Austrian town of Neulengbach, Schiele was arrested at his studio and imprisoned for twenty-four days, accused of seducing and raping an underage girl (as in Krumau, Schiele's workplace had once again become a refuge for many of the town's children, attracting outrage from local residents). These charges were eventually dropped, and he received a lesser charge of creating immoral and "pornographic" drawings of his girlfriend, Wally Neuzil, eighteen years old at the time. Schiele subsequently ceased his practice of using children as models, although the morbidity and sexual explicitness of his work—particularly in his drawings—appears to have increased following his release from prison.
Later Years and Death
Even with the outbreak of World War I, Schiele's artistic output did not change all that drastically. In 1914, the artist enjoyed a very prominent solo show at Vienna's Galerie Guido Arnot, in addition to a number of shows in other cities, and the following year he left Wally Neuzil to marry Edith Harms, a young woman of good social standing. Schiele's new wife evidently had a maturing effect on his work, as seen in pieces like Lovers (1914–15) and(1915), which suggest a deeper understanding of and appreciation for narrative and traditional portraiture.
Schiele was eventually conscripted into military service four days after his marriage. However, he never saw any real combat throughout the war's duration, and instead was allowed to continue practicing his art and exhibiting wherever he was stationed. Inspired by his wartime travels, Schiele produced a number of land- and cityscapes around this time, devoid of the artist's usual exaggerated contours.
By 1917, Schiele was back in Vienna and hard at work. That same year, he and Klimt co-founded the city's Kunsthalle (Art Hall), a new exhibition space designed to encourage Austrian artists to remain in their homeland. The following year, both poignant success and tragedy visited the artist in many forms. In February, a stroke and pneumonia claimed the life of his mentor and friend, Klimt. Just one month later, the Vienna Secession held its forty-ninth annual exhibition and devoted the main exhibition space to Schiele's work, making the affair a great commercial success. In October, his wife, Edith, six months pregnant, succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic sweeping through Europe at the time, which claimed Schiele's life just three days later, dying at age twenty-eight. In the three days between their respective deaths, Schiele produced a number of sketches of his late wife.
Despite Egon Schiele's short life, the artist produced an astonishing number of works on canvas and paper. He was instrumental in formulating the character of early twentieth-century
EGON SCHIELE QUOTES
"I do not deny that I have made drawings and watercolors of an erotic nature. But they are always works of art. Are there no artists who have done erotic pictures?"
"I believe in the immortality of all creatures."
"Everything is dead while it lives."
"To hamper an artist is a crime, the murder of germinating life!"