Tag Archives: Egon Schiele

Cornell/Simon Wilson Schiele book

I think that the Taschen Verlag 25th anniversary book on the Expressionist Austrian (sometimes Viennese) painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) provides sumptuous reproductions of Schiele paintings and drawings. The smaller (both in page size (8 1.2” x 11”) and in number of pages (80)) volume from Cornell University Press, first published in 1980, provides a better textual introduction, written by Simon Wilson. The Cornell book is also organized topically (by the subject matter of the art) but begins with a solid biographical overview.

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Schiele’s father was pensioned off by the Austro-Hungarian Imperial Rail Company (for mental instability) in 1902 and died in 1905. Egon Schiele was accepted as a student in the Vienna Art Academy in 1906 and was soon influenced by the renegade Secession art, particularly that of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), who immediately recognized Schiele’s talent (on being asked to trade drawings, the older and established if avant-garde painter remarked that Schiele was a better draftsman than he was).

Though Schiele’s style diverged from that of Klimt and other Secession artists, the flattening of figures and unconcern about backdrops persisted, and Schiele remained a dutiful quasi-son, who became head of the Secession when Klimt died in 1918, soon followed by Schiele’s 6-month pregnant wife Edith, and three years later (still in advance of the Armistice ending WWI) by his own death, casualties of the devastating Spanish influenza pandemic in which at least a third of the world’s population died (including an estimated twenty million in Europe).

Wilson attempts to distinguish self-portraits expressive of metaphysical Angst (anguish) from self-portraits expressive of sexual Angst. I guess that the paintings (watercolor, gouache, oil) in which Schiele showed caricatures of himself holding his engorged penis or in the throes of orgasm or covering his genitalia to fashion a pseudo-vagina between his hands are “sexual Angst,” but the exaggeration of body hair (and pubic hair, which was always rendered with great care in his female nudes, too) and provocative semi-dress seem to me also to have a sexual charge. Moreover the top of the 1911 “Composition with Three Male Figures” (p. 26/below) strikes me as flirtatious rather than angst-ridden (I’d readily grant that the other two look saddened).

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Neither author provides an explanation of the very recurrent separation between two pairs of fingers (I find spreading fingers easy, as is holding the inner two together or the outer two, but find it impossible to hold two pairs except by arranging them on a flat surface first… so I consider the pose of hands unnatural). Photographs in the Taschen volume show that the artist had long fingers, but do not document the arrangement of them he so often painted.

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In his portraits of others as well as in his self-portraits, Schiele rendered large, prominent hands with long fingers, right up to his not quite finished final large portrait of Albert von Gütertlow, seated and holding up his hands as if they are alien to him. (Being in the collection of the Minneapolis Art Institute, this is the painting by Schiele that first intrigues me, before I got to Vienna, where most of his work still is, particularly in the [Rudolph] Leopold Museum.)

Wilson explains that the young Secessionist painter was introduced to the earlier Expressionist work of Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh in 1909 by art critic Arthur Roessler, who admired worked by Schiele displayed at the Vienna Kunstchau. Without breaking with Klimt or mimicking the techniques of Munch or van Gogh, Schiele shifted to more Expressionist work soon thereafter. Schiele also obtained a sexual outlet other than his hands, living in Kumau with his 17-year-old muse/model Wally Neuzil (whom he would later dump and marry Edith Harms in 1915; she had earlier posed for Klimt).

In the last year or so of his short life, Schiele seems to have moved into a third, less angst-ridden stage and even provided some backdrops for his portraits, including the Albert von Gütertlow. Had he lived even to the Anschluss (when he would have been all of 48), who knows what a trove of masterworks he might have produced! (According to Wilson, Schiele’s work was mostly neglected until the 1960s.)

Back to the book, though biographical sources on Schiele seem slim (he was too busy painting? He did write poetry, however…), Wilson provides a good introduction to the life, traumas, and context of Schiele’s art. His text is more informative, less technical than Reinhard Steiner’s in the Taschen Schiele book.

The superiority of the latter is that the plates are all in color. Fortunately, so is the reproduction of the portrait of Albert von Gütertlow that was my introduction to Schiele’s art. But others in which color is prominent are reproduced in black and white. This is particularly regrettable for “Red Nude” (p. 37): not only is a color in the title, but the text discusses what is red in it (Schiele was not Franz Marc, the whole body was not rendered in red!). The portrait of Friedrika Beer (p. 73) is another especially unfortunate instance. Some (the 1915 portrait of a demure Edith, the 1915, poster of Schiele as St. Sebastian, the great 1918 “Family” with the nude artist behind a woman (not Edith) behind a clothed toddler) are reproduced in color in the Taschen book.

I am glad that I have both books (though it took years of owning them to read their texts and compare their contents!). For textual introduction the Wilson/Cornell one is significantly superior, for reproductions of the art the Steiner/Taschen one is. Neither is expensive (nor is either thick…) The Cornell book is also organized topically (by the subject matter of the art) but begins with a solid biographical overview.

2014,2017, Ste0hen O. Murray

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Taschen’s/ Steiner’s Egon Schiele

Long ago  I  was intirgued by a 1918 portrait  Viennese) painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918: he survived army service during WWI and perished in the Spanish flu) painted of his friend Paris von Gütersloh that the Minneapolis Art Institute has (pictured below).

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Having been reading about Vienna and points down the Danube from it, it decided to read the Taschen Verlag 25th anniversary book.. Like most buyers of most art books, I bought the book for the pictures. Taschen has a well-deserved good reputation for the quality of its reproductions of art. Unlike in my other Schiele book, published by Cornell University Press, the Taschen one has no black-and-white reproductions of art done in color. And the pages are 12″x10″ so there are no postage-stamp-sized reproductions.

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There are some not large photographs included in the two-page chronology. Schiele does not look as wild or as tormented in the photographs as in his many self-portraits. From familiarity with his drawings and paintings of himself, I would not recognize him in any but one of the photographs (one with out-of-control hair).

I discovered that a smaller Schiele book that I also had was a 1991 version of the same text with the same illustrations (and promptly gave it away). Though I have no hesitation in recommending the Taschen book as an introduction to Schiele’s art (that is, the illustrations), I thought that the text by Reinhard Steiner was difficult, assuming more familiarity with the art of the late-19th and early-20th century than some readers intrigued by seeing this or that Schiele in a museum might have. The text by Simon Wilson in the university press (Cornell) book is better as an introduction, assuming less knowledge of the context, and is somewhat more biographical (though both books are organized into chapters by topic (kind of painting) rather than chronological).

Steiner begins with a discussion of Schiele’s self-portraits, then picks up the early engagement with Kilt and Viennese symbolism (Schiele became the leading younger painter in the Secessionist group and became its head when Klimt died, which was only a few months before Schiele did). The division between “The Figure as Signifier” (the next chapter) and “The Visionary and Symbolic Work” (the one following that) is strained in that however exaggerated (expressionist) and decorative (Secessionist) Schiele’s compositions were, they were always figurative and very often nude (or semi-nude with uncovered genitalia). The landscapes are less familiar to me, though I find them striking. They are the subject of the final chapter.

The illustrations are referenced in the text (and overwhelm it IMO). I thought Steiner was particularly good in explaining the 1912 jailing of the artist (not for posing children nude, but for allowing children to see his nude drawings and paintings). Schiele was convicted to a three-day sentence (having already been in jail a month awaiting trial) and one of his drawings was burned by the judge. Though outraged that an Artist could be so persecuted by the State, Schiele made a number of drawings and paintings of his martyred imprisoned self and the contents of his cell.

The amount of art Schiele produced in a ten-year career (of rising fame and patronage) is astounding, especially in that he was in the army for nearly three years of it. The shift from Symbolism to Expressionism in 1910 is not as clear in this volume as it might be, but there is a lot of art on display and some things about the life of the artist. A bargain at the list price of $14.99.

©2012, 2017, Stephen O. Murray