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Inspirational Artist - Egon Schiele

Every now and again Annie stocks an exceptional art book and I of course often acquire it and I learn more about the artist and their works. Today is such a day and the artist is one I know well but not as comprehensively as the works and background conveyed by this wonderful book.

I have always liked Schiele's somewhat risky and provocative works, but never seen a comprehensive collection such as this. Compiled by Taschen it contains over 200 paintings and 150 drawings and watercolours, many of them newly photographed, and these are presented together with biographical details, expert insights, as well as Schiele's own writings and poems. The book offers access to Schiele's ideas about his work and his extraordinary legacy.

Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) was born in Tullin. From an early age Schiele was regarded as a strange child. Shy and reserved, he did poorly at school except in athletics and drawing. He also displayed incestuous tendencies towards his younger sister Gertrude (Gerti) and at sixteen he took the twelve-year-old Gerti by train to Trieste without permission and spent a night in a hotel room with her.

At 15 years old, his father died and he became a ward of his maternal uncle who recognised Schiele's talent for drawing and unenthusiastically allowed him a tutor. In 1906 Schiele applied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt had once studied, but within a year he was transferred to the more traditional Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna.

In 1907, Schiele sought out Gustav Klimt, who generously mentored younger artists. Klimt took a particular interest in the young Schiele, buying his drawings, offering to exchange them for some of his own, arranging models for him and introducing him to potential patrons. Klimt invited Schiele to exhibit some of his work at the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, where he encountered the work of Edvard Munch, Jan Toorop, and Vincent van Gogh among others. Once free of the constraints of the Academy's conventions, Schiele began to explore not only the human form, but also human sexuality. At the time, many found the explicitness of his works disturbing.

In 1911, Schiele met the seventeen-year-old Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, who lived with him in Vienna and served as a model for some of his most striking paintings. Schiele and Wally went to live in Krumau, the birthplace of Schiele's mother. But controversy was never far away they were driven out of the town by the residents, who strongly disapproved of their lifestyle, including his alleged employment of the town's teenage girls as models.

They moved to Neulengbach, where Schiele's studio soon became a gathering place for delinquent children and 1912 he was arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. The police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic. Schiele was imprisoned. The charges of seduction and abduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. While in prison, Schiele created a series of 12 paintings depicting the difficulties and discomfort of being locked in a jail cell.

In 1915, Schiele chose to marry a socially acceptable Edith Harms, but had apparently expected to maintain a relationship with Wally who immediately left him. He told a friend, ‘I intend to get married, advantageously. Not to Wally’.

In 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic reached Vienna. Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28 October. Schiele died only three days after his wife at only the age of 28.

A young rebel and chronic provocateur, he caused uproar among the establishment with his contorted lines, distorted bodies, and explicit eroticism and continues to startle to this day with his unflinching images of himself and his nude subjects. He was a contemporary of that other great artist Klimt but was very different in his style. He focus on the person, the expression and often left the background plain. The facial expressions were often haunting, the bodies exposed and the poses explicit.The twisted body shapes and the expressive line that characterise Schiele's paintings and drawings mark him as an early exponent of Expressionism.

This extra large size format book contains the complete catalogue of Schiele paintings from his most innovative and prolific decade between 1909 and 1918. The near 600 featured works reveal how Schiele created a stylistic form of expression and freedom and and often shocked the viewer, abandoning the form for a distorted and exaggerated one that offered emotional and sexual truth. His subjects are elongated, angular, and twisted. With protruding ribs, contorted limbs, and sickly skin, the body becomes a locus of anguish. The only reprieve is the promise of sex. Like no other early 20th century artist, Schiele laid genitalia bare, bringing some of the most candid renderings of the vagina in Western art history, as well as scenes of masturbation and lesbian sex. These startling works went on to influence many.

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