"Even in the presence of well known men of imposing appearance, Schiele's unusual looks stood out…The features of his face were usually fixed in an earnest, almost sad expression, as though caused by pains which made him weep inwardly."
- Writer Arthur Rössler about the artist
Gustav Klimt, Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Oscar Kokoschka, Otto Wagner, and other intensely creative men lived and worked in early 20th century Vienna, which was now established as one of the leading artistic and intellectual centres of Europe. It was a great time of Vienna Secession, a group of artists designers and craftsmen led by Gustav Klimt and Joseff Hoffman, that broke away from the established and old-fashioned Viennese Künstlergenossenschaft, inspired by the words "To every time its art. To every art its freedom".
One of those incredibly talented men, in my opinion the greatest draftsman of the entire twentieth century, was Egon Schiele who created a remarkable body of work that accurately reflects his deeper psychological realities, vividly demonstrates how childhood traumas were both exhibited and mastered in his art, developing an unusually personal, even autobiographical, art form and transforming his canvas into a mirror where he worked at defining himself; indeed it is truly fascinating to see a remarkable evolution of not only his artistic skills but also his mental state, the slow process of “working through”, as psychologists say.
Unfortunately, a considerable share of his work is of an explicitly erotic nature has blinded many people to his remarkable ability, which I believe was one of the main reasons why Schiele was not as successful with wider public during his lifetime as he perhaps should have been. Many of his works are pictures of women in various states of undress, which let to voracious criticism that he was just a pornographer pretending to be an artist.
Schiele’s greatest early influence was the work of his older compatriot Gustav Klimt, however by 1915 Schiele developed his own styly. He executed numerous portraits in his unique fashion by subverting the usual approach to portraiture and instead exploring unusual angles, asking his models to twist and turn into unconventional attitudes and stare back at the observer with baleful, unblinking eyes, gaining breathtaking results.
He was his own most painted and photographed subject, contorting himself into strange and peculiar angles, creating countless anguished self-images. He devised a Last Supper scenario in which he portrayed himself as Christ. Schiele depicted his relationships to both parents in his art: reviving his father from the dead, he simultaneously killed his mother (Dead Mother series, 1910-1915).
However, as mentioned before, between 1908 and 1918 we can see considerable evidence of psychological growth on Schiele’s part; his images became brighter, softer, less grotesque and aggressive. His expressive artworks look healthier, while artistic skills and technique appear stronger. Meanwhile, toward the end of WW1, the Spanish flu pandemic broke out across Europe; tragically, before his full potential was realized, Egon Schiele died of the flu at a horribly young age, 28, leaving a number of large, unfinished paintings that show the new direction he was taking in his work, leaving his angry adolescence and youth behind.