“Art cannot be modern, art is eternal.” Egon Schiele.
Egon Schiele was born in Tulln, Austria. He started sketching at an early age and by 1906 was already developing a distinctive style, as can be seen in ‘Madonna and Child’ (1906). Influenced to a large degree by the Symbolist movement, Schiele studied at the Vienna Academy from 1906 to 1909 and in 1907 met Gustav Klimt, one of the leading members of Symbolism. Klimt and Schiele were to remain close friends until their deaths.
By 1909 Schiele started to paint portraits. In his use of non-naturalistic colour and unusual angles, these portraits already highlight Schiele’s unique vision, for example, ‘Standing Female Nude with Crossed Arms’ (1910). As well as Klimt, the influences of Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh can be seen in this early work. His career is best known for his remarkable nudes, but he also painted landscapes and allegorical works. In 1912 Schiele was briefly imprisoned charged with indecency due to the explicit nature of his paintings. With the outbreak of the First World War, he was enlisted to serve in the Austrian Army and could not continue his painting whilst in military service. Schiele died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.
Schiele’s paintings, whether portraits, self-portraits or nudes convey a sense of both the physical and the emotional. His numerous self-portraits, frequently adopting awkward sexual postures, seem to suggest a profound unease with the body and distress at its limitations. His use of striking colours and linear technique help create this feeling of anxiety. In his most powerful portrayals of the male and female form the figures express in their postures, and in his use of pencil, gouache or watercolour, emotions from despair through to passion. Schiele received a certain amount of success in his lifetime, but his work was not truly appreciated outside of Austria until the Sixties when it was agreed that he was one of the most important exponents of Expressionism.