Egon Schiele was an important figurative painter from Austria. His paintings of people are known for their contorted, expressive poses. The most famous ones include Seated Woman with a Bent Knee and any of the many self-portraits that he created.
Schiele’s teachers recognized his talent at an early age. His uncle, who cared for Egon, sent him to Kunstgewerbeschule, the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt studied art. Within a year, Egon’s teachers sent him to the more rigorous Akademie der Bildenden Kunste. He studied painting and drawing there, but was frustrated by the school’s old-fashioned approach.
Gustav Klimt took a special interest in Egon. The older artist mentored Schiele, bought his drawings, and introduced him to models and patrons. With his help, Egon had his first art shows. At the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, he discovered and was inspired by the paintings of Edvward Munch and Vincent Van Gogh.
He left school that year to found the Neukunstgruppe, the New Art Group, with some other dissatisfied classmates. Free to pursue their own interests, Egon painted landscapes, still-lifes, and “tributes to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.” But he was best know for his studies of the human form. His paintings of people focused on sexuality, death, and self-discovery.
Critics called Schiele’s artwork grotesque, pornographic, and disturbing. To escape the “claustrophobic Viennese milieu,” Egon moved to Krumau, a small town in southern Bohemia. The residents disapproved of Schiele’s life style though, and they ran him out of town for hiring teenage girls to model for his paintings.
Schiele moved next to Neulengbach. His studio became a gathering place for delinquent children. His neighbors were angered by his way of life. They accused him of kidnapping and he was arrested for seducing a young girl. A judge dropped those charges, but he found the artist guilty of “exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children.” In court, the judge burned one of Egon’s drawings over a candle flame. While in jail, Schiele created 12 paintings depicting the discomfort of a prison.
Soon after, Egon moved to the Viennese suburb where he met his future wife, Edith. Three days after their wedding, he was drafted into World War I. The officers respected his artistic talent. He never saw any fighting, and he was allowed to paint and draw while guarding prisoners of war.
When he returned from war, Schiele’s work “reflected the maturity of an artist in full command of his talents.” Fifty of his pieces were accepted for the Secession’s 49th exhibition in Vienna. He designed a poster for the show, and was offered his own exhibitions in Zurich, Prague, and Dresden. Thanks to their success, the price for Egon’s work increased and he received many requests for portraits.
Later that year though, the Spanish flu reached Vienna. It killed Edith Schiele when she was six months pregnant. Egon died three days later. His final works were sketches of his wife.
The Egon Schiele Museum is located in Tulln, Austria where Schiele was born. A more complete collection of his paintings can be seen in the Leopold Museum, Vienna. There is even a Schiele museum in Krumau, the small Bohemian city where Egon was run out of town. You can see his work and learn more about him at egon-schiele.net.
I saved this master of the month for summer time because I don’t think he’d pass muster with my K-8 school’s administration. In college though, Egon Schiele was a formative inspiration to me and my classmates. In my freshman sketchbooks, you can find pages and pages of pulled faces, contortionist poses, and Schiele-style self-portraits. Even now as a college visitor, I can’t count how many art students adopt Schiele’s style for a semester or more. His work is perfectly suited to the figure studies and exploration that go hand-in-hand in art school.
Portrait of Egon Schiele drawn by yours truly, Rama Hughes.