Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

Liegender Akt

Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Liegender Akt
signed and dated 'Egon Schiele 1917' (lower right)
black Conté crayon and pencil on paper
11½ x 18 1/8 in. (29.3 x 46 cm.)
Drawn in 1917
Dr. Heinrich Rieger, Vienna.
Galerie Wolfgang Gurlitt, Munich.
Galleria D'Arte Galatea, Turin.
Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (by 1964).
Edmund R. Neil, Pasadena (1988).
Billy Wilder, Los Angeles; sale, Christie's, New York, 13 November 1989, lot 24.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

The present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the current owner and the heirs of Dr. Heinrich Rieger. This settlement agreement resolves the dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the successful bidder.

J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, New York, 1998, p. 582, no. 2003 (illustrated).
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Egon Schiele Paintings-Watercolors-Drawings, October-November 1964, no. 123.
Des Moines, Art Center; Columbus, Gallery of Fine Arts and The Art Institute of Chicago, Egon Schiele and The Human Form, September 1971-February 1972, no. 56 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

"I want to start anew. It seems to me that until now I have just been preparing the tools" (E. Schiele, "Letter to Anton Peschka," January 1917, quoted in C.M. Nebehay, ed., Egon Schiele (1890-1918): Leben, Briefe, Gedichte, Vienna, 1979, no. 1170).

A bold and assertive drawing from 1917, Liegender Akt is a work that reflects the mastery of both subject and medium that Schiele had by this time attained in his work, as well as the new direction he was now taking in his art. This work is one of a small group of exceptional female nudes drawn in 1917, in which the overt eroticism of Schiele's earlier pictures and the sharp energy of his former needle-like line have been toned down in favour of a more objective and complete depiction of the human figure as an expressive force of nature. The use of a thicker black crayon, in place of the nervous and tremulous pencil of his early works has allowed the artist to invest the figure with a stronger sense of physicality. Here, depicting the muscular form of an attractive young woman reclining, apparently asleep, her legs parted to reveal her sex, the drawing powerfully explores both the inner life and outer bodily expression of its subject in an extraordinarily open and original way. Viewed from the side, so that the pose of Schiele's model is both forceful and direct in its frontality and in the way in which its sexual core asserts itself, this highly demonstrative yet passive figure contrasts strongly with the emptiness of the sheet.

The female model Schiele used for Liegender Akt is unknown. By the summer of 1917, Schiele's financial situation had radically transformed and he was able for the first time to set up a harem of models in his studio in the manner of that of his mentor Gustav Klimt. Preceding this, in the first part of the year Schiele seems to have repeatedly used a lone professional model or, more often than not, his wife Edith and his sister-in-law Adele Harms. Edith and Adele appear frequently in his work of 1917. Having gained a reputation in the predominantly less progressive and more prudish circles of Vienna as a "pornographer," it was often Schiele's practice to disguise and obscure the identity of sitters who were close personal friends or family. In the case of his wife and sister-in-law, this practice became more pronounced and he was well known to intermingle the features of the two sisters largely for the sake of his wife's modesty. Edith Schiele was at once both jealous of her husband's models and naturally shy. While she therefore preferred to sit for her husband herself, she had no desire to be recognised as a sitter of his pictures, especially when it was often given to her to deliver his works to their respective buyers and patrons.

Schiele's crayon drawings of 1917-1918 marked the onset of his first significant commercial success. His drawings of female figures--both nude and semi-clothed, in overtly or ambiguously erotic poses--now openly attracted a wide audience, partly the result of a more tolerant moral climate near the end of the war, but also because of the artist's more naturalistic treatment of his subjects, a pictorial trend that was also observable in the contemporary figurative work of Picasso in Paris and would soon spread throughout Europe as a post-war revival of neo-classicism. With her knees spread wide, the comely young model clearly signals her availability, but her matter-of-fact casualness partly mitigates the immodesty of her pose. She seems self-absorbed and oblivious to the artist as observer, and indeed this attitude was meant to entice the collector, who assumes a role as voyeur to the scene. The economy of Schiele's line sharpens these effects; his contours are assured, varied and unerringly interwoven throughout. In Liegender Akt, as in other drawings of the period, the artist plays sleight of hand with the lines themselves, leaving gaps in the contours which tease the eye, and create a rhythmical counterpoint between open and closed forms. Schiele has kept the description of form and detail within the figure to an absolute minimum, using hatching sparingly to render the musculature of the hips and knees, and the sway of her breasts. The viewer's eye is immediately drawn to a small tuft of hair under her leaning arm (as Picasso was also fond of depicting in his late drawings), which, in conjunction with the posture of her legs, takes on a suggestively intimate connotation.

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