1890 Tulln - 1918 Vienna
Art history: Expressionism
Canvases of Egon Schiele [70 canvases]
Biography of Egon Schiele
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. In 1913 he wrote to his brother-in-law: I don't know whether there is anyone else at all who remembers my noble father with such sadness. I don't know who is able to understand why I visit those places where my father used to be and where I can feel the pain... . I believe in the immortality of all creatures ... why do I paint graves and many similar things? because this continues to live in me. 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: My mother is a very strange woman ... She doesn't understand me in the least and doesn't love me much either. If she had either love or understanding she would be prepared to make sacrifices. During his late adolescence Schiele's emotions were directed into an intense relationship with his younger sister, Gerti, which was not without its incestuous implications. When he was sixteen and she was twelve, he took her by train all the way to Trieste, where they spent the night in a double-room at a hotel. On another occasion, his father broke down the door of a locked room to see what the two children were doing in there together. 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 Werkst?tte, 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 pubescent children, especially young girls, who were often the subjects of his drawings. Paris von Guetersloh, a young artist who was Schiele's contemporary, remembered that the establishment was overrun with them: They slept, recovered from beatings administered by parents, lazily lounged about - something they were not allowed to do at home - combed their hair, pulled their dresses up or down, did up or undid their shoes ... like animals in a cage which suits them, they were left to their own devices, or at any rate believed themselves to be. 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. His letters make it plain that he suffered from a degree of persecution mania - for example, he wrote in a letter of 1910: 'How hideous it is here! Everyone envies me and conspires against me. Former colleagues regard me with malevolent eyes.' 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.' The Neulengbach affair had no effect on his career, and apparently little on his character, apart from supplying him with tangible proof that he was indeed a victim. 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. Their relationship was a constant struggle over money, Schiele always wanting the highest possible prices for his work. Meanwhile he was writing boastfully to his mother, in March 1913: All beautiful and noble qualities have been united in me ... I shall be the fruit which will leave eternal vitality behind even after its decay. How great must be your joy, therefore, to have given birth to me. Schiele's narcissism, exhibitionism and persecution-mania can all be found united in the poster he produced for his first one-man exhibition in Vienna, held at the Galerie Arnot at the very beginning Of 1915, in which he portrayed himself as St Sebastian. 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 Ad?le harms 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 Caf? 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. Schiele, who seems never to have written her a real love-letter, and who in the midst of her illness wrote his mother a very cool letter to say that she would probably not survive, was devastated by the loss. Almost immediately he came down with the same sickness, and died on 31 October, three days after his wife.
You can find canvases of this artist in these museums:
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