1890 On June 12 of this year, Egon Schiele was born as the third child to Adolf Eugen Schiele, senior officer of the K. & K. [Imperial & Royal] Railway, and Marie Schiele in the small Lower Austrian town of Tulln. He was christened Egon Leo Adolf. Egon Schiele had two older sisters: Elvira, who was born in 1883, yet died at the age of ten, and Melanie, born in 1886. Gertrude, the youngest child of the family, was born in 1894. She often sat as Schiele’s model, frequently for his nude drawings, during Schiele’s early years as an artist. She later married the painter Anton Peschka.
1890-1905 While still attending elementary school, Egon Schiele completed his first drawings, usually of the trains and train station in Tulln. At the age of ten, Schiele began attending the eight-year high school in the town of Krems, but due to poor grades, his father sent him in the fall of 1902 to the high school in Klosterneuburg. The teachers there soon complained that Egon was disrupting the class with his drawing. As his father’s health continued to deteriorate to the point where he was unable to carry out his duties,the Schieles moved to Klosterneuburg. On January 1, 1905, Adolf Schiele died, presumably of progressive paralysis.
1906 Egon’s uncle and godfather, the engineer Leopold Czihaczek, who was married to a sister of Egon’s father, became Egon’s legal guardian. Just as his father had, his uncle envisioned Egon Schiele attending the Technical University in Vienna. However, due to inadequate success at school — Egon again had to repeat a grade — Schiele’s mother turned to one of her sisters, Olga Angerer, whose husband owned a chemigraphic business. She would have liked Egon to be hired as a draftsman. Yet, in a letter from June 9, 1906, Marie Schiele’s request was flatly rejected. There was talk of sending him to the College of Applied Arts in Vienna. The drawings that Schiele then submitted were considered to be so good that the school urged him to attend the Academy of Fine Arts. After Schiele was accepted, his uncle’s misgivings faded and he sent a delighted telegraph on October 13, 1906, to his wife: “Egon passes splendidly”.
1907 Schiele embraced his new pursuit with utmost enthusiasm. However, the relationship quickly soured between him and his archreactionary instructors who still clung to the “Ringstraßenstil” [Ringstraße Style]. In this year Schiele already attempted to become acquainted with Gustav Klimt. With his younger sister Gertrude he travelled to Trieste and created several studies of the harbor.
1909 Four works by Schiele were shown at the 1909 International Art Exhibition, presided over by Gustav Klimt. Here, Schiele also met the architect Josef Hoffmann and thereby came into contact with the Wiener Werkstätte soon thereafter. In April he left the Academy, after studying there for three years. With fellow artists he founded the New Art Group. Members included: Anton Faistauer, Rudolf Kalvach, Franz Wiegele, Hans Ehrlich, the composer Löwenstein, as well as the stage painter Erwin Dominik Osen (who, for a period of time, influenced Schiele a great deal). Later, Hans Böhler and Albert Paris von Gütersloh joined the group. Schiele acted as president and secretary. In December, the New Art Group made its first showing at the Salon Pisko in Vienna.
1910 In autumn Schiele’s works were again exhibited at the Klosterneuburg Priory. The railway official Heinrich Benesch was so enthusiastic about a painting of a sunflower that he wished to meet the artist personally. Benesch was to become the most persistent collector of Schiele’s drawings and watercolors. (Today, they serve as the basis for the Schiele Collection at the Albertina, whose director from 1947 to 1961 was Benesch’s son, Otto.).
1911 By 1910, at the age of 20, Schiele had already acquired his artistic independence, but not public recognition. And yet, in 1911, Paris von Gütersloh wrote an essay about the artist (Egon Schiele — Versuch einer Vorrede [Egon Schiele — An Attempt at an Introduction]), and Arthur Roessler published an illustrated article on him in the monthly Bildende Künstler [Fine Artists].
From April to May, the first large-scale exhibition of Schiele’s works took place in Vienna at the Galerie Miethke. The Wiener Werkstätte nonetheless rejected five attractive postcard sketches of Schiele’s that same year. Egon Schiele moved to Krumau, the hometown of his mother. Shortly before moving, he met the model Wally Neuzil. They moved in together, and he invited her with him to Krumau. There, Schiele entered a highly productive phase in his art, and he completed his fantastic, visionary cityscapes, among other works. However, the small-town inhabitants soon took issue with Schiele for engaging very young girls as nude models as well as for living together with Wally without being married. Schiele was forced to leave Krumau and, following a short stay at his mother’s in Vienna, settled in Neulengbach, a small town near Vienna.
1912 On April 13, Schiele was taken into custody in Neulengbach and transferred to the district court in St. Pölten on April 30. The principal charge — the seduction of a minor — proved to be groundless. However, since children occasionally saw the nude drawings in Schiele’s studio, the court found a case for the “dissemination of immoral drawings” and convicted Schiele to three days in prison — a term considered fulfilled through his 24 days in custody. For Schiele it proved to be a terrible shock. His time in Neulengbach, one of his most productive periods, was now definitively over. Schiele wrote to Arthur Roessler, who had not been in Vienna during Schiele’s custody, on May 18: “… I am still completely shattered. — During the trial one of my pieces which had been hanging in my studio, was burned. Klimt wants to do something, he said: this is what should happen today and tomorrow, but we cannot do a single thing we would like to …”
1913 With Klimt‘s support Schiele is admitted to the Österreichischen Künstlerbund.
Schiele began working for the Berlin magazine Die Aktion. This Weekly for Politics, Literature and Art, edited by Franz Pfemfert, started accepting Schiele’s drawings and prose-poems the same year.
1914 In this year, Schiele was able to partake in exhibitions outside of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany. Works of his appear in Rome (International Secession), Brussels and Paris. In spring, Robert Philippi introduced him to the art of the woodcut and etching, and he created six etchings by summer. With the photographer Anton Josef Trčka, Schiele worked on a series of highly idiosyncratic portraits. At this time, the apartment building opposite the studio Schiele moved into in 1912, located at Hietzinger Hauptstraße 101 in Vienna’s 13th district, belonged to Johann Harms, a master craftsman in metalworking. Harms also lived there, together with his wife and two daughters, Adele and Edith. It is believed that Schiele made approaches towards Edith as early as January, but it was not until the end of the year that he actually met the two sisters.
1915 Schiele decided to marry Edith Harms. The wedding took place on June 21, four days before Schiele was to report for military duty in Prague. Edith accompanied him to Prague. One month later Schiele was relocated to Vienna and was able to complete his military service in and near Vienna. He is made to escort Russian prisoners of war in Lower Austria and does portraits of them and of his superiors.
1916 The weekly Die Aktion devotes an issue to Egon Schiele (No. 35/36).
1917 Together with von Gütersloh, Schiele is commissioned to organize the Kriegsausstellung 1917 [War Exhibition] in the Prater Park in Vienna.
1918 Gustav Klimt died on February 6. On the following day, Schiele completed three drawings of Klimt’s corpse, which had a completely shaved head, at Vienna’s General Hospital.
In March, the Secession Building in Vienna was made available to Schiele and his group. Schiele was given the main hall. Nineteen large paintings and 29 drawings, some of them with watercolor, were placed on display. This exhibition was both artistically and financially Schiele’s first true success. It follows from one of Schiele’s letters that his wife, then in her sixth month of pregnancy, contracted the Spanish Flu on October 19. She died nine days later on October 28, at 8 a.m. On the evening before, Schiele completed two drawings of her. They were to be his final works. He himself had already contracted the Spanish Flu. On the 31 of October at 1 a.m., he died at the age of 28.
— Egon Schiele Autograph Database
Austria's position within the maelstrom of twentieth-century cultural and political history is extremely ambiguous: at once central and off the beaten track. The small nation that came into being after 1918, almost wholly devoid of international presence, was easily subsumed into Hitler's Reich in 1938. On the losing side in both world wars, Austria was further obscured by a tendency to write history from the perspective of the victor nations. In art, this meant that the trajectory of modernism was traced from prewar France to postwar America, with an overriding emphasis on formalist innovations. Germany's more figural Expressionism was grudgingly acknowledged but never embraced. Austrian modernism - which combined Expressionist elements with traces of Symbolism and Art Nouveau - was for many years wholly ignored in the West.
This began to change gradually in the 1970s, as American and British scholars woke up to the bizarre concentration of multifaceted talents who had occupied the Viennese capital in the first two decades of last century. Fin-de-siecle Vienna has since acquired legendary status in interdisciplinary cultural studies. Histories of modern Austrian art generally begin with the architectural boom that swept Vienna in the second half of the nineteenth century. During this period of strong economic growth, the Emperor Franz Josef constructed a necklace of public edifices along the broad Ringstrasse that encircles Vienna's inner city, prompting artists to flock to the capital from all over to compete for decorative mural commissions. The most renowned painter of the era was Hans Makart, but the young Gustav Klimt also earned his reputation executing commissions on the interior walls of structures such as theaters and museums. The favored style combined a sort of blowsy eroticism with a firm grip on classical and historical allegory. Klimt gradually moved away from the accepted formula, however, evolving a personal symbolism that was less conventionally readable as well as more overtly sexual. This combination proved devastating so far as the tasted of staid Vienna were concerned: Klimt was banished from the ranks of public muralists, and henceforth had to seek support solely from well-heeled private patrons. As cofounder and first president of the Vienna Secession, Klimt remained the most successful artist of his day. Nonetheless, being exiled from the public to the private sector rankled him for the rest of his life.
Egon Schiele was born into this peculiar atmosphere on June 12, 1890. With public patronage on the wane and the commercial gallery system still in its infancy, Klimt and his colleagues had cobbled together a fairly impressive network of private patronage, capable of financing not only the Secession's magnificent exhibition hall, but the efforts of the notoriously inefficient Vienna Workshop, a design collective that endeavored to unite the fine and the applied arts. The Secession's showings of foreign art introduced to Vienna a rather skewed view of modernism, one that placed more emphasis on international Symbolism than on the French Impressionism which had such a decisive influence almost everywhere else in Europe. Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh, rather than Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, became the dominant role models. This caused Austrian art to grow ever more brooding and introspective just at the moment when its financial support system was in a state of extreme flux.
All his life, Schiele yearned to create the sort of grand allegorical murals that Klimt had once painted, but there was no public outlet for such works and private clients rarely bought them. Unlike Klimt's society portraits, those painted by Schiele and his Expressionist colleagues were unflattering, and few patrons were eager for sittings. Thus a huge void developed between Schiele's artistic desire and his realistic prospects - a gap that was to haunt his entire brief career.
Schiele's family environment was not particularly encouraging for a fledgling painter. Adolf Schiele, the artist's father, was the stationmaster in the small town of Tulln, about eighteen miles west of Vienna, and it was expected that his firstborn son would follow him into railroad service. Little Egon's obsession with drawing trains - which supposedly began at the age of one-and -a-half-led Adolf to hope that his son might become an engineer. Certainly he never dreamed the boy would instead want to be an artist, or, for that matter, considered this a fitting career. Education being fundamental to a bourgeois profession, Schiele was sent off at the age of eleven to attend a Realgymnasium in the town of Krems, some twenty-five miles distant from Tulln. The boy's loneliness and general lack of interest in academic subjects, however, made of him a poor student. Private tutors and a different Gymnasium did nothing to reverse the situation. Indeed, by the time Egon was fourteen or fifteen, he had been left back several times and was some two or three years older than most of his classmates. Matters were hardly helped by the death in 1904 of Adolf from syphilis, which he had contracted around the time of his marriage.
The circumstances of Adolf Schiele's illness precipitated a drastic drop from the family's previously middle-class station. Several years of increasing madness and supposedly the loss of all his savings preceded the father's death. Marie Schiele, his widow, was forced to turn to wealthier family members for assistance, in particular to her brother-in-law, Leopold Czihaczek, who became co guardian of the two minor children, Egon and his younger sister, Gertrude. An older sister, Melanie, went to work for the railroad in order to augment the family's finances. Marie was encouraged by all her relative to consider Egon's artistic ambitions woefully impractical - indeed, selfish and inconsiderate. Yet he was doing worse than ever at the Gymnasium, and toward the end of the spring semester in 1906, his teacher politely suggested he leave. With this, all thoughts of an engineering career - or any profession requiring a university education - had to be abandoned. Egon now prevailed upon his mother and Czihaczek to permit him to apply to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. That summer, he took and passed the rigorous entrance exam - becoming, at sixteen, the youngest student admitted to his class.
Though passionate about art, Schiele proved surprisingly resistant to the strict regimen at the Academy of Fine Arts. Certainly he was a brilliant draftsman, capable of executing in minutes assignments his classmates slaved over for hours. yet there is something ponderous and heavy-handed about Schiele's early academic studies of antique casts and his relatively soulless renderings of professional models. It is not impossible to understand why his professor never gave him a grade higher than "satisfactory" for these efforts, particularly as the student's attention bean to focus increasingly outside classroom. The influence of Gustav Klimt became somewhat evident in the younger artist's work around 1907, and emerge full-blown in 1908, presumably in the wake of large exhibition the "Kunstschau" (Art Show), which included a roomful of Klimt's paintings. By 1909, Schiele was strutting about Vienna calling himself the "Silver Klimt," and, in flagrant defiance of Academy regulations, had accepted invitations to exhibit at a second "Kunstschau" and at a commercial gallery, the Kunstsalon Pisko. Declaring their opposition to the Academy's rigid rules and orthodox methods in a formal letter of protest, Schiele and a group of like-minded classmates, the self-styled Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group), withdrew from the school on the spring of 1909.
By early 1910, Schiele appeared well on the way to establishing himself professionally. Not yet twenty years old, he had already developed his own distinctive Expressionist style and was amassing an impressive group of supporters, including not just Klimt but also Klimt's Wiener Werkstatte colleagues, the art critic Arthur Roessler, and a small cadre of well-to-do private collectors. So seemingly warm was his welcome into the avant-garde Viennese art establishment that his departure from the Academy could be seen less as an act of iconoclastic rebellion than as a smart career move. Schiele may at once point have seen it as such himself, but appearances proved deceptive. The example of Klimt and Wiener Werkstatte had encouraged him to believe that artists are automatically entitled to societal support, regardless of their success or failure in the marketplace. Schiele was not included to be in the least accommodating, either professionally or personally. His decorative commissions for the Wiener Werkstatte - either too abrasive or too sexually explicit - almost invariably went awry, and his portraits were frontal assaults on a sitter's vanity. His profligate habits eventually exasperated his patrons - mostly older men, from whom Schiele expected a fatherly devotion that they were ill prepared to provide. Petty rivalries within the Neukunstgruppe soon forced the artist to confront the bitter truth: he would not automatically be anointed leader of his generation.
Schiele responded to these dashed hopes by turing inward and eventually fleeing Vienna. toward the end of 1910, he began a series of murky allegories exploring his role as artistic visionary. He was increasingly drawn to Krumau, a beautiful medieval town in Czech Bohemia whose crumbling walls evoked for him the noble futility of human endeavor. Schiele had spent the summer of 1910 in Krumau, and in the spring of 1911, he decided to make a permanent move. At first, the artist was deliriously happy, taking the villagers' bemused looks as a sign of adulation. But the provincial villagers were, as it turns out, hardly impressed with Schiele's bezarre manner of dressing or, more to the point, with his unconventional life style. In August 1911, after a nude model was observed posing outdoors, he was evicted from his lodgings and forced to leave town. From the frying pan into the fire, Schiele now went to Austrian village of Neulengbach where, in April 1912, he was jailed on charges of "public immorality" for allegedly exposing minors to erotic works in his studio.
The loss of the original court records, as well as the absence of much unassailable firsthand documentation of Schiele's imprisonment, make it difficult to reconstruct fully the circumstances that preceded the artist's arrest. Obviously, his habit of inviting children to pose contributed to his predicament, although surviving drawings suggest that, especially in the smaller towns of Krumau and Neulengbach, his underage models rarely removed their clothes. Children clearly found the painter - who in many ways still thought and acted like a child himself - a romantic and appealing figure, and his Neulengbach studio quickly became an after-school hangout. Apparently, the trouble started when one of these girls, Tatjana Georgette Anna von Mossig, decided to run away from home and sought refuge with Egon and his lover, Valerie Neuzil. The couple, not knowing how to react, agreed to take the girl to her grandmother in Vienna the next day, but when they arrived in the city, Tatjana became frightened and asked to return home. All in all, she was gone three nights, but by the time her father came to fetch her, he had already filed charges of kidnapping and rape against Schiele. Tatjana would ultimately waffle in her testimony, and these charges would be withdrawn, but they prompted the local authorities to launch a full-scale investigation of the artist. A search of his studio revealed a single incriminating drawing tacked to the bedroom wall, which led to the count of public immorality on which Schiele was tried and convicted.
The twenty-four days that Schiele spent in jail formed a turning point in his brief life. Hereafter, he was gradually compelled to come to terms with the demands that society places on everyone, including artist. He made visible concessions to conventional morality almost immediately: He more or less stopped drawing children and in 1915 broke with Wally and married the gourgeoise Edith Harms. Professionally, Schiele found it somewhat harder to get back on track. His imprisonment, coupled with his protracted absence from the Viennese art scene, had severed the already tenuous ties with many of his original patrons, and his innate independence tended to sabotage his fledgling relationship with commercial art dealers. After moving back to Vienna in 1912, Schiele's progress was further hampered by his insistence on creating large allegorical paintings, but his exhibitions were receiving more favorable notice and he began to attract a new set of patrons, including the wealthy Lederer family and generous collector Franz Hauer.
Schiele's personal path into adulthood was paralleled by changes in his artistic approach. As he grew less self0centered and more outward-looking, his art grew less anguished and introspective. The number of self-portraits diminished, his line became smoother, his manner of modeling more overtly realistic. The female nude had always figured prominently in Schiele's work - as indeed it does in that of many artists. However, whereas in his early twenties he had explored his own ambivalence toward and even terror of sexuality, he now approached the subject from a greater emotional distance. His later nudes were increasingly depersonalized, but his portraits were, conversely, more probing. Instead of projecting his own personality onto that of his subjects, as he had formerly, he was now intimately attuned to each individuals's identity.
The greater humanism of Schiele's later work was conditioned not only by his newfound maturity, but more concretely by his marriage and by his experiences as a solder in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. His imminent induction into the army had escalated his flirtation with Edith Harms, whom the artist married four days before he was scheduled to report for basic training. the newlyweds' forced separation and Egon's jealous suspicions of Edith placed an early strain on their marriage. Yet Schiele's need to come to terms with his wife's failings gave him greater insight into the workings of the female psyche overall, as was evidenced in many of his subsequent portraits. He showed similar compassion toward the Russian prisoners of war (ostensibly his enemies) whom he was assigned to guard. "Their desire for eternal peace was as great as mine," he noted. Sensing nationalism's devastating potential, he was an avowed pacifist at a date when so-called radicals still supported the war.
The war of course totally disrupted Schiele's professional life. After completing basic training, he spent some months stationed in and around Vienna, but even thought the artist was often allowed to sleep at home, he could get little painting done. In May 1916, he was sent to the rural hamlet of Muhling, about three hours west of Vienna. His duties - mainly office work - were not particularly taxing, and since Muhling was not in a war zone, Edith was allowed to accompany him there. Nevertheless, the couples' life remained unsatisfactory - 1916 was Egon's least productive year artistically, and Edith, bored and lonely, seems to have complained constantly. Considering that the Austro-Hungarian army provided privileged spots for many artists and writers, Schiele found it surprisingly difficult to wangle a post that would allow him to use his talents. Finally, in early 1917, he managed to get himself assigned back to Vienna, where under the sympathetic eyes of his superiors at the Military Supply Depot, he was given plenty of time to pursue his art.
Schiele returned to Vienna full of creative energy and eager to get his career moving again. Som of his plans - for example, for the establishment of an exhibition organization modeled along the lines of the Secession - foundered, but on the whole he made remarkable strides. The director of the Staatsgalerie, Franz Martin Haberditzl,, acquired a number of works by Schiele and sat for a portrait. The first portfolio of Schiele reproductions was published by the book and art dealer Richard Lanyi, and commissions of all sorts began to roll in. Schiele also took the lead as an exhibition organizer, first for the Imperial Army Museum, and then in 1918 for the Secession. Schiele's own section at the Secession show was almost completely sold out, and though inflation ate into his earnings, the artist for the first time saw a prospect of affluence. In 1917 and 1918, Schiele rented a large garden apartment on the Wattmanngasse, retaining his old premises on the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse with the thought of opening an art school there. Since Klimt's death that past February, Schiele had been widely acknowledged as Vienna's foremost artist.
It is ironic that, with the entire world in a state of momentous transition, Schiele to the end cast himself in the antiquated mold of Gustav Klimt. Although private patronage had for most of his life provided Schiele with meager substance he refused to embrace the wider market place that could only be reached under the auspices of a commercial gallery. Instead, with his new, more humanistic and palatable style, he set himself up to replace Klimt as a society portraitist. And while public patronage was doomed even in Klimt's day, Schiele spent a good portion of his last two years concocting a monumental mural scheme. How - if ever - this self-style mausoleum was to have been built remains unclear. Evidently, however, most of the allegorical nudes which Schiele painted in late 1917 and 1918 were intended for its walls. His final masterpiece, The Family, was not an autobiographical statement, but rather a metaphor for what Schiele, in his mausoleum notes, called "earthly existence." the male figure (a self-portrait representing the life force) hunches over the female (the vehicle) and the infant (the creative outcome). The three figures encompass a nested cycle of decay and regeneration.
Although The Family is not autobiographical (and the woman is an anonymous model), Egon and Edith did in fact conceive a child shortly after the painting was finished. There is surprisingly little evidence - either artistic or anecdotal - of how Schiele was affected by the prospect of fatherhood. While he was solicitous of his wife's health, his growing professional stature had if anything increased the emotional distance between them. In the autumn of 1918, en early cold snap and pervasive fuel and food shortages provided a fertile breeding ground for the deadly Spanish influenza epidemic that would eventually sweep Europe and the United States, claiming more victims than the world war. Edith, in her sixth month of pregnancy, contracted the disease a few days before her husband. She died on October 28; Egon followed on October 31.
The body of work which the twenty-eight year old Egon Shiele left behind is indelibly marked by the stamp of his youth. His earliest Expressionist pieces chart the universal adolescent search for personal and sexual identity, while the adoption of more conventional stylistic methods accompanies his growing maturity and acceptance of the role o husband and artistic leader. Although it is wrong to conflate Schiele's life with his art, the art probably is more strongly shaped by his personal development than is commonly the case. Unlike many modernists in other countries, Schiele did not have the support of a group of like-minded colleagues. Drawing creative sustenance from an eclectic smattering of foreign and domestic influences, he reached his ultimate formal solutions largely alone. So long as modern art history was written in terms of broad schools and movements, the idiosyncratic achievements of Ego Schiele could never receive proper recognition. Today, however, we are more inclined to recognize that history is a messy mass of loose ends, subject to myriad distortions and subjective biases. From this perspective, Schiele is very much a man of our times, just as his anguish and confusion reinforce our pervasive conviction that there are no easy answers to the existential dilemmas confronting us at new century.
EGON SCHIELE est né en 1890 à Tulln, dans une petite ville proche de Vienne en Autriche. Dès l'enfance il exprime un réel talent pour le dessin. Son père, qui exerce le métier de chef de gare l'encourage dans cette voie, mais atteint d'une maladie mentale, il meurt en 1905. Ce décès précoce ternit la jeunesse de Egon Schiel, et lui procure une vision du monde qui dès lors sera souvent sombre et torturée.
Il décide contre l'avis de son tuteur Leopold Czihaczck, de poursuivre le dessin et d'entrer à l'Académie des Beaux-Arts de Vienne. Mais il trouve que l'enseignement y est beaucoup trop académique, et il quitte les Beaux Arts en 1909 pour créer avec ses amis le 'Seukunstgruppe" (Le Groupe pour le Nouvel Art). Ses premiers travaux s'inspirent de l' impressionisme, mais très vite, il est attiré par la Sécession Viennoise.
Son travail est alors très marqué par les travaux de Gustav Klimt. Mais d'autres influences telles que celles de Van Gogh, de Hodler, et de Georges Minne jouent aussi un rôle essentiel dans l'évolution et la construction de son style. ll peint des portraits, car ils sont pour lui à l'époque une activité lucrative. L' une des oeuvres qui marque alors un tournant dans l'évolution de son travail pictural est le "Portrait de Gerti Schiele ", sa soeur, qu'il peint en 1909.
Il la représente sur un fond vide, monochrome et uniforme. Cette mise en valeur du sujet sur des fonds monochromes sera l'une des caractéristiques de son style et marquera beaucoup d'oeuvres qu'il réalisera par la suite.
C'est à partir des années 1910 qu'il commence donc à affirmer ce style plus personnel caractérisé par le dépouillement de la forme, la sobriété du contenu, l'utilisation d' arrière plans sans ornement, sur lequel le personnage ou le sujet se détache. De plus, Schiele attache un très grande importance aux autoportraits. Il ne cherche pas à représenter sa condition sociale ni son état émotionnel, mais il cherche à transcrire l'intériorité angoissée du moi, par les positions excentriques du corps ou des mains qu'il peint. Ces positions non conventionnelles, les poses extrêmes,les traits déformés et grimaçants, créent une distance avec le spectateur et lui cause une gêne, voire une tension. Egon Schiele dessine vite.
Il a un "coup de crayon", qui constitue une caractéristique à part entière de son art. Pour lui, le dessin a une valeur pour son côté allusif, immédiat,spontané, inachevé. La coloration des dessins sert qu'à renforcer l' expression qu'il veut donner au sujet. Mais il évoluera progressivement en donnant aux parties arrondies du corps des formes anguleuses soulignées de traits fins,et exacts.
Il lui arrive ausi parfois de ne pas achever le dessin, de ne pas traiter le sujet jusqu'au bout, et de laisser le tableau inachevé. Egon Schiele enferme ses sujets dans des contours soulignés et bien visibles. Ses coloris sont les tons bruns, rouges, noirs et verts qui amplifient l'aspect dérangeant et inquiétant de ses peintures. La pâleur des chairs invoquent la mort. Cette manière d'utiliser les couleurs accentue la force expressive, et froide des compositions. Dans son oeuvre, le nu occupe une place très importante. Il est en effet fasciné par le corps humain, par sa précarité et par les pulsions dont il est l'objet. Le corps de le femme l'inspire et il peint au cours des années des toiles dont les modèles prennent des positions de plus en plus provoquantes, et exhibant les organes génitaux. Les personnages sont souvent dans des poses figées, sans expressivité, mais remplies d'angoisse.
C'est ainsi que le nu érotique et obcène a une place importante chez Schiele qu'il représente le sexe masculin ou féminin, c'est toujours de manière univoque. Schiele donne aussi aux mains une grande importance. La main, et le geste sont généralement très expressifs et prennent aussi des poses particulières, voire énigmatiques qui influencent profondément le caractère du tableau, ou sa signification. Les mains, tout comme les visages semblent être pour Egon Schiele non pas des moyens de communiquer au sens habituel, mais des moyens d'exprimer son être profond en dehors de toute convention sociale. La signature elle même de l'artiste prend un sens dans ses tableaux.
Il accorde beaucoup d'importance à la composition de celle ci où il indique son prénom, son nom et la date sous une forme close, comme un cachet d'authentification. Selon les toiles, il appose parfois une ou plusieurs signatures, signifiant en cela celles qui étaient plus importantes pour lui. D'autres ne sont pas signées, sans doute pour mettre en évidence leur côté inachevé qu'il leur accorde.Sur certains dessins, la signature est placée à l'inverse du sens du dessin pour la lire, pour créer la distance par rapport à ce que l'on voit. L'originalité totale d'Egon Schiele est finalement qu'il fait du corps humain un puissant support de l'expressivité.
Au cours de l'année 1910, il peint un grand nombre de nus expressifs.ll quitte Krumau en 1911 et s'établit à Neulenbach pour vivre avec son modèle Valérie Neuziel, dite Wally. En 1912, à la suite d'une comdamnation pour distribution de dessins immoraux, il se voit confisquer quelques-uns uns de ses dessins érotiques, et fait trois jours de prison à la suite du procès de Sankt Polten.Son sentiment d'injustice et de révolte grandit : il réalise un certain nombre de dessins érotiques de plus en plus provoquants.
Sa révolte contre la société est exacerbée et trouve son expression dans un certain nombre d'oeuvres comme par exemple "Le Cardinal et la Nonne" ou dans des autoportraits où il se peint en une victime incomprise. Egon Schiele et Valérie Neuziel se séparent en 1915. Le 17 juin de la même année, il épouse Edith Harms. Il est peu après mobilisé à Prague puis à Vienne. L'art de Schiele évolue et semble devenir plus équilibré : les thèmes ne sont plus les mêmes, les corps sont moins torturés et moins fragiles. Il peint en 1918 un tableau intitulé " La Famille" qui caractérise particulièrement cette évolution Cette année là, son œuvre connaît un véritable succès à l'exposition de la Sécession Viennoise. La plupart des tableaux qui y sont exposés sont vendus. Quelques mois plus tard , le 28 octobre sa femme meurt de la grippe espagnole et lui même succombe de la même maladie trois jours plus tard, le 31 octobre 1918.
L'oeuvre d'Egon Schiele se comprend par les épreuves et les événements qui ont affecté sa vie et tous les moments les plus marquants de son existence, depuis la mort de son père, tel son incarcération, sa séparation avec sa maîtresse, ou celui de son mariage sont des moments d'une émotion intense qu'il s'est appliqué à traduire au travers ses toiles. Cependant au-delà du caractère anecdotique ou autobiographique de l' œuvre, Egon Schiele est allé à la recherche de son être au travers cette expression picturale si caractérisée qui émane de toute sa production. Ses nombreux autoportraits sont le témoignage de cette quête intérieure constante chez lui.
Egon Schiele y la radiografía de una época
La modernidad. La pujante, envolvente, serpenteante, crítica, arrolladora e insoslayable modernidad. La fáustica -aquélla que hizo decir al judío Walter Benjamin que "todo acto de cultura es también un acto de barbarie." La cara de Jano de la modernidad; por un lado, su culto al progreso científico-técnico, su imperio de la razón que oblitera las negras emanaciones mitológicas del inconsciente, sus leyes, su contrato social, su citadino confort burgués, su higiene mental y buenas costumbres, y por otro lado, el alto precio de ese bienestar, la explotación masiva de hombres y mujeres que ponen en funcionamiento los engranajes del progreso, la enajenación, el desencantamiento de un mundo que comienza a resquebrajarse allí donde se trazaban los luminosos rasgos de la utopía. El siglo XIX fue, paradójicamente, el siglo del incontenible triunfo del progreso científico-tecnico y también de su contra parte: anarquismo, socialismo, búsqueda de nuevos paradigmas sociales ante los excesos de una civilización empeñada en imponer la razón productivista como única medida para entender -y dominar- el mundo. Los poetas malditos -continuadores del Romanticismo pero escépticos, desesperadamente cínicos, desprovistos de la esperanza que aún subyacía en los románticos-, las fugas literales o metafóricas de muchos artistas al Oriente, la búsqueda del paraíso original acometida por Gauguin en los mares del sur, el auge del espiritismo y de la teosofía en amplios sectores de la burguesía, el redescubrimiento de los mitos medievales en el simbolismo y en los prerrafaelitas, son, de alguna manera, la otra faz del racionalismo triunfante.
El fin de la llamada belle époque y el agotamiento del modelo liberal comienza con el siglo XX y se expresa, de manera determinante, en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Cierto: ya Nietzsche y Marx -dos duros del pensamiento germánico- habían denunciado con insólita lucidez las fallas, las hipocresías y las disfunciones del paradigma tardomoderno, pero será en las primeras décadas del siglo pasado cuando coagule el malestar cultural de Occidente y tome una expresión propia en el territorio del arte.
El expresionismo alemán -nacido en 1905- encarna a plenitud ese estado de espíritu. Se trata, en principio, de un movimento pictórico -El Puente, nacido en Dresde y compuesto por Kirchner, Heckel y Schmitdt-Rottluff, entre otros- pero que pronto rebasará las fronteras de género para ramificarse en el teatro, la danza, el cine, la música, la literatura y la acción política. Un verdadero zeitgeist -o estado de espíritu común-, se apodera de los intelectuales y artistas alemanes. El ataque, consciente o inconscientemente, se dirige contra los modelos de un arte todavía representativo del ilusorio sueño liberal burgués: el naturalismo, el impresionismo, el paisajismo pastoral y sus múltiples derivaciones son blanco de los expresionistas. Contra la armónica impresión tranquilizadora proponen la salvaje expresión visceral de lo subjetivo; contra las coordenadas de lo bello, la crudeza de la fealdad, contra lo espiritual y angélico en el arte, lo sádico y demoníaco, lo cruento, lo que escapa tanto a las virtudes teológicas como a esa moderna teología de la razón. No es casual que uno de los antecedentes pictóricos más determinantes para los expresionistas haya sido ese cuadro que aún nos sigue conmoviendo: El grito, de Eduard Munch. De ahí que se haya visto en el expresionismo una continuación del espíritu romántico y, sobre todo, una herencia del Sturm und Drang. Y es verdad que lo romántico -en el sentido más antirracionalista del término- retoma su lugar en la cultura de Occidente con el expresionismo; también el espíritu del gótico y del barroco -dos movimientos marcadamente antirracionalistas en la historia del arte.
Viena, comienzos de siglo. Un imperio -el de los Habsburgos, con ochocientos años en el poder- se debate en su agonía. Viena la hermosa, la que se consagra al placer, al hedonismo y a la civilizada celebración de la modernidad triunfante. Viena de los cafés y los teatros, de los variados y espléndidos estilos arquitectónicos -clásico, neoclásico, románico, barroco-por medio de los cuales la burguesía se adueña de la Historia. Es en esa Viena, como en ninguna otra ciudad europea, donde se vive el desencantamiento y la desilusión burguesa, donde aparece la conciencia del simulacro y de la separación entre palabra y mundo, entre la acartonada retórica y la cruda realidad. Donde un periodista y poeta llamado Karl Kraus, después de denunciar la falsedad detrás de la fastuosidad y la hipocresía de su época, se calla para siempre. "No esperen de mí una palabra -dice Kraus-, tampoco podría decir nada nuevo. En la habitación donde estoy hay un ruido horrendo: carros de guerra, ediciones de la prensa voceada como batalla ganada, quienes nada tienen que decir ahora, porque de hecho tienen la palabra, continúan hablando. Quien tenga algo que decir, que dé un paso al frente y que calle para siempre." Es en esa Viena -repito- donde vive el pintor Egon Schiele.
"Todo está muerto en vida". Esta frase de Schiele -que también podría suscribirla su compatriota Kraus- describe muy bien el estado de espíritu de la época pero también describe la singularidad de su obra. Una vez superada la influencia art-nouveau de su maestro Klimt -quien lo apoyó y reconoció tu talento artístico desde que el pintor tenía 17 años-, Schiele desarrolla un estilo que lo caracteriza: una línea sinuosa, enérgica y a veces quebrada, define sus motivos, casi siempre mujeres de largos y delgados miembros, de pálida piel y de aspecto enfermizo, pueblan sus cuadros. La lobreguez y la muerte rezuman de sus jóvenes y a veces púberes modelos. La muerte en la vida o la inminencia de aquélla -más allá de cualquier posible anécdota- es la preocupación central en la obra de Schiele. En ese sentido, su erotismo -y señalemos que fue encarcelado durante tres días en 1912 por sus dibujos supuestamente pornográficos- no está registrado como deudor del principio del placer sino como representativo de un instinto de muerte, de una pulsión tanática que raya en lo perverso, es decir, en lo no permisible por las buenas conciencias de la época -las mismas que sí permitían e incentivaban la carnicería humana acaecida en la Primera Guerra Mundial. Su erotismo es instinto, un erotismo animal desprovisto del civilizado encanto acometido por otros pintores de la época, incluyendo a su maestro Klimt y al también contemporáneo y vienés Kokoschka. Schiele no pinta cuerpos, personajes; no dibuja posibles psicologías personales; pinta, más bien, el drama de la condición humana a partir del cuerpo, a partir del nacimiento y la muerte -tiene muchos motivos de madres con hijos que no reflejan exactamente la alegría de vivir- como emblema de la inutilidad de la aventura existencial de la especie.
Los cuerpos de Schiele son expresiones de lo mórbido y enfermizo, de ahí también que su paleta -a total diferencia de los demás expresionistas- sea parca, en extremo reservada y en gran parte limitada a colores tierras obscuros. El artista aísla a sus personajes, los rodea de soledad, de un vacío inquietante y angustioso que también es un vacío interior, una falta, una carencia irresoluble. Las manos nervudas, crispadas, artríticas, son una constante y una constancia del dolor, son el punctum -como diría Barthes- de la composición: la potenciación de un activo flujo que allí adquiere su máxima expresión pictórica. Las manos son una sinécdoque de la totalidad del ser. Cuando aborda el tema de las parejas, el abrazo carnal, el vínculo entre dos, evidencia con mayor contundencia aún la intrínseca soledad y el abandono, la inútil búsqueda de protección en la inasible soledad del otro. No hay otro en Schiele, no hay escapatoria hacia un afuera improbable, por eso el paisaje es páramo -los fondos neutros, nulos, o cerrados en su asfixiante frontalidad a cualquier fuga apacible de la mirada-, reflejo de un alma despoblada y reseca. Reflejo también, tal vez, de ese mundo desencantado que el rostro de Jano de la modernidad dibujaba fielmente. Schiele, en ese sentido, es el testigo del estertor de una época; involuntariamente, trazó la radiografía de un cadáver viviente. "Todo está muerto en vida" -dijo-, pero ese documento de la oscuridad del alma -y también de una época- que encarna en su obra, ha llegado hasta nuestros días. Un documento inconcluso, una obra fragmentada por la temprana muerte del artista a los 28 años, víctima de una epidemia de gripe, la cual también segó la vida de su maestro, Klimt. Hoy, a poco más de ochenta años de su muerte, recordamos a Schiele como a uno de los artistas más dramáticamente vitales y representativos del expresionismo -sin duda la primera gran revolución artística del siglo XX.