Egon Schiele is a sweeping vision of the creative universe of one of the 20th century’s most important artists through approximately one hundred drawings, gouaches, watercolors, and photographs on loan from the Albertina Museum, Vienna. This institution boasts one of the world’s largest collections of historical graphic work, including the most important compilation of works on paper by this great Austrian Expressionist.
This show offers a unique perspective on Schiele’s stylistic evolution over the course of an intensely prolific decade, cut short by his untimely death at the age of 28, which underscores the decisive role that this artist’s graphic work played in shaping the history of art and consolidating his own international reputation.
Covering every stage of his career—the early pieces produced while studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna, works heavily influenced by Gustav Klimt and Viennese Modernism, and the output of his final years in which he made a break with naturalism, characterized by a radical use of color and new, unsettling motifs such as explicitly erotic nudes or portraits of children—Egon Schiele is a singular, fascinating review of the oeuvre of an artist who revolutionized art history.
In his tragically short life and barely ten years of independent artistic activity (1908–1918), Egon Schiele produced a surprisingly rich artistic legacy comprising over 2,500 works on paper and more than 330 paintings on panel or canvas, not to mention his sketchbooks. Unlike Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), whose drawings served as rough drafts or sketches for his paintings, Egon Schiele treated his works on paper as independent works of art. Indeed, his works on paper show greater freedom and expressiveness than his pictorial output.
Egon Schiele developed a highly personal, characteristic technique thanks to his decorative use of flat surfaces and the flowing ornamental lines of the Viennese Secession style. The expressionistic body language, gestures and mimicry seen in his work was inspired by medical photographs which documented women suffering from hysteria, patients of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot’s Parisian clinic at the Salpêtrière, and by the erotic photography produced in Otto Schmidt’s studio. In his creations, Schiele returned the female nude and other themes such as the ailing body or the pathological disintegration of personality o a new and different limelight on the stage of art. Schiele’s work was also influenced by theosophy and Spiritism as well as ghost photographs, which he viewed as evidence of our own mortality. For example, many of his figures are surrounded by white halos or auras, the “light that comes out of all bodies”.