Schiele was an Austrian painter. A protégé of
Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele was a major figurative painter of the
early 20th century. Schiele's work is noted for its intensity, and the
many self-portraits the artist produced. The twisted body shapes and the
expressive line that characterize Schiele's paintings and drawings mark
the artist as an early exponent of
Expressionism, although Egon Schiele is
also strongly associated with the art nouveau movement. After the great
Klimt, Egon Schiele is the painter that strongly influenced the artistic
scene of Vienna in the early 20th century.
Egon Schiele was at odds with art critics and society for most of his brief life. Even more than Gustav Klimt, Schiele made eroticism one of his major themes and was briefly imprisoned for obscenity in 1912. His treatment of the nude figure suggests a lonely, tormented spirit haunted rather than fulfilled by sexuality. At first strongly influenced by Klimt, whom he met in 1907, Schiele soon achieved an independent anticlassical style wherein his jagged lines arose more from psychological and spiritual feeling than from aesthetic considerations.
Egon Schiele was the son of Marie and Adolph Schiele, born in Tulln, a small town on the Danube on June 12, 1890. His father Adolf worked for the Austrian State Railways, and was in charge of the important station at Tulln. 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. When Egon Schiele was 15, his father died of syphilis. Egon Schiele became a ward of his uncle, who, though distressed by Egon's lack of interest in academic studies, recognized his passion and talent for art.
Egon Schiele was accepted into the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at the age of sixteen. Due to various troubles he left the Academy in 1909. By this time, however, Egon Schiele was already participating in public exhibitions and was well acquainted with Gustav Klimt, who was both an inspiration and a friend to him throughout his life. Once free of the constraints of the anachronistic and conservative Academy, Schiele began to explore, through his work, not only the human form, but also human sexuality. Many found the explicitness of his works shocking at the time.
Klimt invited Schiele to exhibit some of his work at the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, where Egon Schiele encountered the work of Edvard Munch, Jan Toorop, and Vincent van Gogh among others. Egon Schiele joyfully founded the "Neukunstgruppe" and developed a drawing style that intentionally conjured up the impression of fragility and tension. In an anti-academic and radically subjective manner, Schiele chose perspectives and views in a way that figures, which are only rarely shown head-on or in full length in the picture, appear twisted and deformed by their compositional arrangement. The main motives of these decadently colored representations are self-portraits and portraits, but also nudes that are distinguished by strongly erotic features. These pictures irritated the conventional perception and therefore became early examples of Viennese expressionism.
In 1911, Schiele met the seventeen-year-old Valerie (Wally) Neuzil, who lived with him in Vienna and served as model for some of his most striking paintings, such as Death and Girl (shown here). It is a self portrait with Walli. Very little is known of her, except that she had previously modeled for Gustav Klimt and might have been one of his mistresses. Schiele and Wally wanted to escape what they perceived as the claustrophobic Viennese milieu, and went a small town in southern Bohemia. Egon Schiele and his lover were driven out of the town by the residents, who strongly disapproved of their lifestyle, including his alleged employment of the town's teenage girls as models.
Egon and Walli moved to Neulengbach, just west west of Vienna, seeking inspirational surroundings and an inexpensive studio in which to work. As it was in the capital, Schiele's studio became a gathering place for the town's delinquent children. Schiele's way of life aroused much animosity among the town's inhabitants, and in April 1912 Egon Schiele was arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. In court, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame. World War I now began to shape Schiele's life and work.
Egon Schiele met and married Edith Harms just days before he was ordered to report for active service in the army. Schiele was treated well by officers who respected his artistic talent. Egon Schiele never saw any fighting at the front, and was able to continue painting and sketching while guarding Russian prisoners of war, and doing light guard duties. By 1917, he was back in Vienna, able to focus on his artistic career. Egon Schiele's output was prolific, and his work reflected the maturity of an artist in full command of his talents.
Egon Schiele was invited to participate in the Secession's 49th exhibition, held in Vienna in 1918. Schiele had fifty works accepted for this exhibition, and they were displayed in the main hall. Egon Schiele also designed a poster for the exhibition, which was reminiscent of the Last Supper, with a portrait of himself in the place of Christ. The show was a triumphant success, and as a result, prices for Schiele's drawings increased and he received many portrait commissions.
In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. Egon Schiele's wife Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on October 28th. Schiele died only three days after his wife. He was 28 years old. During the three days between their deaths, Egon Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith; these were his last works.