Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Standing Nude with Stockings, 1914. Black chalk and gouache, 48.5 x 32.1 cm. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremburg.
LONDON.- The Courtauld Gallery is presenting the first major museum exhibition in over 20 years of one of the 20th Century’s most exceptional artists, Egon Schiele (18901918). A central figure of Viennese art in the turbulent years around the First World War, Schiele rose to prominence alongside his avant-garde contemporaries, such as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka. He produced some of the most radical depictions of the human figure created in modern times, reinventing the subject for the 20th Century. The exhibition charts Schiele’s short but transformative career through one of his most important subjects – his extraordinary drawings and watercolours of male and female nudes.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Erwin Dominik Osen, Nude with Crossed Arms, 1910. Black chalk, watercolour and gouache, 44.7 x 31.5 cm. The Leopold Museum, Vienna.
Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude concentrates on the artist’s drawings and watercolours. It brings together an outstanding selection of works that highlight Schiele’s technical virtuosity, highly original vision and uncompromising depiction of the naked figure. This sharply focused exhibition is a unique opportunity to see thirty-eight of these radical works drawn from both international museums and private collections, with many works shown in the United Kingdom for the first time.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Woman with Black Stockings, 1913. Gouache, watercolour and pencil, 48.3 x 31.8 cm. Private collection, courtesy of Richard Nagy, London.
Schiele arrived in Vienna in 1906, aged just sixteen, to train as an artist. He quickly proved his precocious talent and the following year sought out Klimt, the leader of Vienna’s Secessionist group of avant-garde artists and designers, who became a mentor to the young artist. Schiele’s early work could not have prepared the art establishment for the extraordinary breakthrough that he made in 1910 when he began to draw the figure in an entirely new way and the subject of the nude took on an increasingly important role.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Crouching Woman with Green Kerchief, 1914. Pencil and gouache, 47 x 31 cm. The Leopold Museum, Vienna.
This exhibition begins with a rich selection of nudes from this seminal year, including a number of Schiele’s powerful nude self-portraits, demonstrating how his approach was closely tied to his introspective examination of his physical and psychological make-up. The main section explores his provocative nudes of the next nine years when he pushed artistic conventions through his direct expression of human experience, fears and desires. The works are bound up with themes of self-expression, procreation, sexuality and eroticism. These were fertile concerns in the socially and psychologically charged atmosphere of pre-war Vienna.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Nude Self-Portrait in Gray with Open Mouth, 1910. Black chalk and gouache, 44.8 x 32.1 cm. The Leopold Museum, Vienna.
Schiele overturned and transformed old traditions of art school life drawing classes with his raw and unidealised approach to the nude. Rather than just depict conventional artists’ models in familiar poses, he took as his subjects an unusual variety of people including himself, his sister, male friends, his lovers and wife, female prostitutes, pregnant women and babies observed in a medical clinic, and a number of young female models. Schiele’s subjects often act out a striking body language, assuming expressive or painfully twisted poses, his models frequently explicit in their nudity. Many of these works affronted contemporary Austrian standards of morality and were considered pornographic by some. In 1912 Schiele was even imprisoned for two months for contravening public decency. Today, these works are celebrated for challenging outmoded conventions of the nude in high art of the period and for investing the genre with a new and distinctly modern relevance.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Two Girls Embracing (Friends), 1915. Gouache, watercolour and pencil, 48 x 32.7 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.
The last part of the exhibition looks at works from Schiele’s final years before his untimely death in 1918 from Spanish influenza, aged just 28. An important aspect of all these works is Schiele’s unique draughtsmanship, which the exhibition explores through the development of his technique and approach to the medium that he made so distinctively his own. Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude is also an opportunity to reflect upon Schiele’s wide-ranging influence on the course of modern art that still resonates today.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Male Lower Torso, 1910. Black chalk and gouache, 44.8 x 28.1 cm. The Leopold Museum, Vienna.
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands (Self-Portrait), 1910. Black chalk and gouache on paper, 63 x 45 cm. The Leopold Museum, Vienna.