Egon Schiele was born on the 12th of June 1890 in Tulln, Austria. His father, Adolf Schiele, was a station master for the Austrian State Railway which influenced Egon’s artwork as a child as most of his drawings were of trains. He had three sisters and was closest to his youngest sister Gerti whom he was rumored to have an incestious relationship with.
After his fathers death, he enrolled in the Vienna Academy of Arts and Crafts in 1906, but ended up leaving after three years because he felt it was too conservative. In 1907 he sought out Gustav Klimt (founder of the Vienna Secession). Klimt took an interest in Schiele and purchased some of his works and introduced him to other patrons.
His early works show strong influences of the art nouveau and Vienna Secession. Klimt invited him to exhibit his work at the 1909 Vienna Kuntschau shortly after which he began experimenting with the human form in a sexually explicit manner which many people found extremely disturbing.
With time, he distanced himself from the ornate art nouveau style and his style took on a much darker and emotional turn emphasizing the intensity of human psychology.
In 1911 at the age of 21 he met 17 year old Wally Neuzil, who had modelled for Klimt, and she became the model for many of Schiele’s works throughout the years. To escape what they described as ‘the claustrophobic life of Vienna’, the moved to Krumau, however were driven out of the town because of Schiele’s employment of young teenage girls to model for his paintings. They then moved to Neulengbach where in 1912 he was arrested for the seduction of a young teenage girl below the age of consent.
When his case was presented before a judge, the charges of abduction and seduction were dropped, but he was charged with displaying erotic images in a place accessable to children and spent 24 days in prison and the judge burned one of his paintings in front of him.
In 1915 he met Edith Harms, whom he chose to marry over Wally because it was more advantageous for him as Edith came from a wealthy family. When he broke the news to Wally he told her he still wanted to maintain their relationship but Wally didn’t agree and left him. Two years later, she would die of scarlet fever.
In 1918 the Spanish flu made it to Vienna where Edith, 6 months pregnant with Schiele’s baby, died, him following her 3 days later on October 31st.
Schiele was known for his stripped down macabre eroticism. His style marks his out to be an early exponent of expressionism (art that expresses intense emotions). He produced many paintings of children, whether clothed or unclothed, they had a distinct erotic nature, close to pornography.
His very distinct style of disproportionately enlarging body parts such as the hands and feet was to emphasize the feeling and emotions within his works. He was fascinated by sex and death which can be seen throughout his works.
Schiele is said to have reinvented allegory in a contemporary manner, surpassing Klimt’s attempts and basing many of his allegorical imagery on himself. He is said to have been a narcissist, obsessed with his own image painting numerous self portraits in which he depicted himself in eroticized and often in the nude, highly revealing poses.
After his marriage to Edith his art becomes less neurotic, less haunted, less obsessive and becomes more conventional with lots of portraiture work.
He founded the Neukunstgrupped (New Art Group) as a rebellion against theconservative nature of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He was instrumental in the formulation of early 20th century Expressionism characterized by the use of irregular contours, an often somber colour palette and frequently dark symbolism.
I have personally always been fascinated by his artwork. I found his paintings grotesque in the most beautiful sense of the word that there can be. I greatly admire his technique and the emotion I experience when looking at his work. I think his decisions to experiment with the theme of eroticism in his work and display it at a time when it was greatly frowned upon is admirable.
As much as I am not a fan of his character and personal life, especially involving the use of underage models posing nude and seducing them, I try to separate the artist from the art because I can’t help but be incredibly captivated by it.
Schiele’s work also serves as an inspiration to me because I greatly enjoy ‘unconventional’ and grotesque art where human beings are depicted somewhat misfigured such as within anatomy or the colours chosen for skin.
Overall I do believe Schiele was not a pleasant man and quite frankly he was a pedophile, which makes me feel conflicted about loving his work.
It is definitely a moral battle within myself when I wonder whether it is right that I admire the work of someone who is so clearly not a good person and has done things I morally disagree with such as soliciting minors and painting them in explicit positions and in the nude.
He has been an inspiration to me for a very long time in my life and when I discovered he was involved with such horrible acts it threw me into a major moral conflict, can I still love his work, can it still inspire me even though he was a seemingly awful man?