Nearly 100 years have passed since Schiele’s death, and yet none of the anxiety surrounding his Expressionist repertoire of emaciated nudes and masturbatory self-portraits has diminished. Few artists have been so starkly frank in their exploration of sexuality or so dangerously close to straining taboo to breaking point.
Schiele was born in Tulln, Austria, the son of the town’s stationmaster. At the age of 16 he moved to Vienna to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. Vienna in the early 1900s was in the grip of an artistic revolution — in 1897 Gustav Klimt had formed the Viennese Secession, a movement that believed an artist’s duty was to free culture from the grips of the establishment. Klimt, whom Schiele greatly admired, became the young artist’s mentor, and in 1909 Schiele followed Klimt’s example and left the conservative strictures of the Academy to form his own movement, the Neukunstgruppe.
By the early 1910s, his work had become an obsessive exploration of the human body. Images such as Self-portrait, Nude (1910) or Two Girls Lying Entwined (1915), though near-pornographic, defy the conventional platitudes of eroticism. Schiele’s nakedness is starved, desperate, mortal and stripped of all societal and artistic convention.
In 1912, Schiele was arrested for the alleged seduction of one of his underage models. The charge was not proven but he spent 24 days in prison, condemned for the indecency of his work. It was a public vilification that belied Schiele’s commercial and critical success — throughout his short career museums and collectors from across Europe would continue to buy his work.
Schiele’s pregnant wife, who had appeared in some of his most tender work, such as The Embrace (1917), died in the influenza pandemic of 1918. Schiele was to follow her a few days later. He was only 28.
Sitzender Bub mit gefalteten Händen (recto) ; Bildnisstudie Dr. Oskar Reichel mit erhobener linker Hand (verso)
Erich Lederer, Drawing on the Floor (recto); Erich Lederer in Profile, Hand to Head (verso)