Schiele is next to Klimt the key figure of Viennas art scene. Next to the Leopold Museum owning the largest Schiele collection other museums and galleries are also showing works of Schiele. Right now one of my personal favorite museums – Albertina Museum – has dedicated a whole exhibition to the art of Egon Schiele.
His oeuvre is marked by a schism between the modernist and the traditional. Schiele is well known for his provocative (semi-) nude portraits. Until today the opinion about his work is various. The exhibition is showing portraits, landscape and still life paintings.
While Schiele is typically viewed as part of Vienna’s artistic and intellectual elite, among personalities ranging from Mahler to Schnitzler, from Freud to Kraus, and from Altenberg to Hofmannsthal, this exhibition is conceived according to a different principle: large photographs hanging in the air pit the artist’s works against the reality of his environment, as a visible demonstration of just how out of sync the two were. The real backdrop represented by these photos makes clear the acute discrepancy between Schiele’s output and the society amidst which he lived.
Alongside being one of Vienna’s two key figures along with Klimt, Egon Schiele was not only a co-originator and grand master of expressionism, but furthermore—and above all—the 20th century’s greatest drawers. Following his studies at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, where he adhered to that institution’s rigid stylistic standards, the young artist first turned to the Art Nouveau style. Klimt used to be his role model. But unlike Klimt, whose drawings served as ideas, cartoons, or sketches for paintings, Egon Schiele soon came to regard his own works on paper as artworks in their own right. By 1910, the barely 20-year-old Schiele had already created an entirely unmistakable style that he could truly call his own—above all in his drawings.
In these, as well as in his paintings, the artist broke new ground: it was with assured, strong strokes that he would sketch out his subject, which was usually the human body. Schiele’s so precisely calculated drawings also show how he stepped into a new ground in terms of iconography and colouration. It is therefore with good reason that the artist’s drawn works are viewed as being at least equal in status to his paintings. As a drawer, he went on to become a great role model for many artists of our own times.
Egon Schiele’s depictions of emaciated bodies manifest an aesthetic of the ugly that was as radical then as it is now. It contrasts diametrically with the ideal of beauty propagated by the Secessionist circle of Gustav Klimt. The young Schiele actually eliminates the contradiction between the beautiful and the ugly, the normal and the pathological. His protagonists stand symbolically for human beings’ alienation from society and from religion. They embody an allegory of the modern individual’s homelessness—in which the renouncement of false shame is transformed from a broken taboo into an aesthetic principle.
Despite his short life (1890–1918) and an artistic career that barely exceeded ten years, Egon Schiele left behind a breathtaking vast oeuvre. Not counting his sketchbooks, he created over 330 paintings and over 2,500 drawings. The Albertina is home to a large number of works from every creative phase of the short-lived genius.
These holdings, which provide the conceptual starting point and core of this exhibition, are complemented by various important loan works from Austrian and foreign collections and museums. The present exhibition presents a unique perspective on Egon Schiele’s artistic development, which his untimely death at just 28 years of age was to so abruptly terminate.
All photos taken by me in the occasion of a social conference (press conference for bloggers and social media influencers) and the event “Salon Schiele”.
Find out more about the exhibition and see more images here.