Egon Schiele: Life and Work
NAME: Egon Schiele
LIFE: 12 June 1890 – 31 October 1918
DIED AT AGE: 28
INFLUENCES: Oskar Kokoshka, Gustav Klimt
ASSOCIATED WITH: Art Nouveau, Expressionism
Egon Schiele showed a talent for painting since he was young, to the bemusement of his uncle, who took care of his family (his father died when he was 15). At age 16 he began attending art schools in Vienna which were called “Kunstgewerbeschule” or “Werkkunstschule”– basically schools of applied arts for high-school aged kids. Egon hopped around from werkkunstschule to werkkunstschule, not quite finding the right fit. In 1907 at age 17, he sought out Gustav Klimt, one of this biggest inspirations. Long story kinda short, Klimt took Schiele under his wing and introduced him to the whole expressionist/impressionist turn-of-the-century art scene in Europe. The following year Schiele has his first exhibition in Austria, and the year after that (1909) he dropped out of school à la confident young artist– a decision that paid off given that later that same year he was exhibiting his work alongside Edvard Munch and Van Gogh and founded the Neukunstgruppe ("New Art Group") with other unhappy students. Schiele’s emaciated figures appear sickly in color, are contorted and disfigured into strongly sexual poses. You can tell Schiele unquestionably captured the tumultuous inner state of his subjects in his paintings; don't forget these were the years of the rise of psychoanalysis and Freud, which marked a MAJOR shift in collective consciousness and our understanding of the human mind. This new knowledge made its way into many painters work, especially the deeply sensitive ones, in my opinion. In these years Egon consolidated his personal style.
Schiele tried to avoid conscription for WWI, but finally got drafted in 1915. Luckily, the military recognized his talent and put him in charge of the food stores and clerking, even providing him a studio space and allowing him to paint Russian prisoners. He returned to Vienna in 1917, hitting his artistic stride, and produced most of his better-known paintings. Little detail is known about Egon's personal life and preferences; some say he was actually in love with his sister since a young age. He lived with his lover, Wally, for many years in his early twenties, but ultimately married Edith Harms. It is thought that he was sexually involved with most of his models.
In 1918, at the young age of 28, the Spanish flu pandemic that killed 20 million in Europe arrived in Vienna and took his 6-month pregnant wife. Three days later, Egon contracted the flu himself and died.
He left a legacy of over 280 beautifully felt and sexually raw paintings and sketches that continue to be emotionally relevant to this day. •
Above: photograph of Egon Schiele, 1914