Erotic Charge in the Expressionist Art of Egon Schiele

Provoke! (NSFW)Angie Kordic

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‘Erotic works of art are also sacred.’ That is what Egon Schiele once said, and it is still unclear whether he also meant his own erotic works – as there is basically nothing sacred about them. Rather, they’re graphic, both aesthetically and in meaning, figuratively distorted and as far as they can be from conventional norms of beauty. And Schiele? He can be described as an eternal rebel, a man who seems to have been deeply influenced by Freud and his Theory of Sexuality, someone who offered a new, bold and raw form of nude portraiture and self-portraiture to the world. Through his short, yet more than a productive artistic career, Egon Schiele invented his own kind of visual poetry, almost brutally honest and direct.

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Woman With Black Stockings, 1913 / Right: Egon Schiele – Male Nude, Yellow, 1910

 

The Life and Art of Egon Schiele

It is hard to talk about Egon Schiele and the power of his painting and drawings without telling the story of his, to say the least, intriguing life as well. He was born in Austria in 1890 and growing up, he was always described as reserved and shy. Early in his childhood, he developed an interest in sketching, but also human sexuality. After the death of his father, he moved to the capital Vienna, where he enrolled Vienna Academy of Fine Art at the age of 16 – as the youngest student to ever enroll the Academy. There he encountered the teachings toward an ultra-conservative artistic style, and veering towards a more avant-garde approach, he eventually dropped out. Together with a group of other dissatisfied students, Egon Schiele created Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group) in 1909, which was also quite successful in their time, having exhibited in Prague, Budapest and Cologne in the early 1910s. It was about this time that he started developing his extraordinary oeuvre of the nude, which went hand-in-hand with his controversial ways of doing them, but also his love life.

 

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Egon Schiele – Female Nude on Her Stomach, 1917

 

Lovers and Muses

From almost the same starting point, Egon Schiele started building up his reputation of an artist of the bare body, but also one of a womanizer. Wherever he’d go, and he moved around his homeland Austria quite a few times, he caused controversy and little understanding of both his art and painting/drawing sessions. Some of his most striking paintings feature his seventeen-year-old lover Wally Neuzil, with whom he spent some time in the small town of Český Krumlov (Krumau), his mother’s birthplace and now home to the Egon Schiele Art Centrum, a museum dedicated primarily to the artist’s work. However, the residents did not quite approve their particular lifestyle and his alleged employment of teenage girls as models. As a result, Egon Schiele moved to Neulengbach, but only to be arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. Later, these charges were dropped, but he spent three weeks in prison for exhibiting erotic drawings, and many of them were confiscated by the police for indecency. In 1914, he married Edith Harms, which led to apparently more mature and realistic painting, notable in his works during the World War I.

 

A video of Egon Schiele art exhibition at Courtauld Gallery, London in 2014

 

The Erotic Nudes

In their early days, Egon Schiele’s erotic nudes were quite experimental, featuring interestingly-colored figures and the highlights of their sexual power. With time, these portraits and self-portraits grew more and more figurative, wrenched apart and almost monochromatic, revealing his subjects from unsettling angles through strong contours of an inner landscape – because for Egon Schiele, it was not just about the human form, but also the human psychology. By confronting the body, the artist would penetrate into his sitters’ state of mind, showing sexuality as something way beyond the physical world. Using an often somber color palette and dark symbolism, he created tension, emancipation, twist, sexual allegory of a kind in which his portraits and self-portraits often remained unfinished, as if the story should be never-ending and always revealing something brand new, about the artist, but also ourselves.

 

Until his untimely death in 1918, caused by the Spanish flu, Egon Schiele painted many nudes of his mistresses, prostitutes and everyone else who was willing to model for him, but also fellow soldiers during the war, and his latest drawings even depict female nudes in masturbatory poses. His work was often described as pornographic, grotesque, even disturbing and too explicit, and today it simply represents one of the finest examples of modern art, created by a remarkable artist who was able to capture the essence of the human existence in an unprecedented and inimitable manner.

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Standing Female Nude [Handzeichnungen] / Right: Egon Schiele – Girl with black hair, 1910

 

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Egon Schiele – Female nude, 1914

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Seated Nude with Bent Left Knee, 1918 / Right: Egon Schiele – Standing Nude with Stockings, 1914

 

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Egon Schiele – Woman, 1917

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Seated Female Nude, Elbows Resting on Right Knee, 1914 / Right: Egon Schiele – Nude with Red Garters, 1911

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Kniender Akt, Selbstporträt, 1910 / Right: Egon Schiele – Self portrait grimacing, 1910

 

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Left: Egon Schiele – Female Nude [Handzeichnungen] / Right: Egon Schiele – Nude Laying Down [Handzeichnungen]

 
Editors’ Tip: Egon Schiele: Drawings and Watercolors Hardcover by Jane Kallir
Explore further about the work of this prolific artist. This Austrian Expressionist’s career was interrupted by his early death at the age of twenty-eight in 1918, but he has created an impressive body of work during his lifetime. His ouvre includes a few hundred oil paintings and thousands of drawings and watercolors. This book gathers his drawing and watercolors from various public and private collections around the world, showcasing work from various phases of his career. These works are rarely reproduced, so this book gives a comprehensive look at his work and provides a unique opportunity to study Schiele’s artistic development. The book is organized chronologically and divided into year-by-year sections, each section including a text connecting his major life events and the work he has created at the time.

 

 

Featured images in slider: Aktselbstbildnis, 1916; Egon Schiele – Reclining Female Nude, 1918; Reclining nude, 1910; Sitting girl, 1917; Two Female Nudes, 1917; Two Women, 1915. All images used for illustrative purposes only.
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