Egon Schiele’s Influential Expressionism
Turn-of-the-century Vienna was an explosive environment for new forms of creative expression in every field, not least in fine art. Along with Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele emerged as an influential and provocative talent.
Schiele’s gifts were quickly recognized by his instructors at Vienna’s School of Arts and Crafts when he was still only 16, but his transfer to the more traditional Academy of Fine Arts led to his feeling stifled. Luckily, he was also mentored by Klimt and introduced to other Secessionists, designers of the Wiener Werkstätte, and prominent patrons during this time.
Between the years of his first exhibition in 1908 and his death fewer than ten years later in 1918, Schiele left the Academy, founded a new artistic group (the Neukunstgruppe), and developed an Expressionist figurative style that explored themes of sexuality, discovery, and death. His personal life was at times chaotic and included a serious relationship with a much younger model, an accusation of seduction, and a brief imprisonment. He married a respectable middle class woman named Edith Harms, who would become the model for some of his later work, including meditations on family.
Schiele’s portraits are instantly recognizable through their contorted and distorted gestures and poses, their raw humanity, and exaggeratedly long limbs and swollen joints. He was his own model in numerous self-portraits throughout his career. His final sketches were of Edith in the three days between her death and his death of the Spanish Influenza following World War I.
In the centennial year of his passing, Schiele’s work is being celebrated in special exhibitions at several museums, among them the Met Breuer in New York, the Neue Galerie in New York, and the Leopold Museum in Vienna. After one hundred years, Egon Schiele’s intensity and talent are still in the spotlight and receiving their due.
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