Although some of his models keep their clothes on and he also painted landscapes, artist Egon Schiele is best known for his nudes many of which are explicit. This aspect of his work underpins TheRadical Nude a new exhibition of his work at London’s Courtauld Gallery. In their publicity for the show they state “Schiele’s technical virtuosity, highly original vision and unflinching depictions of the naked figure distinguish these works as being among his most significant contributions to the development of modern art.”
The Guardian’s art critic Jonathon Jones goes further stating that the Austro-Hungarian artist is “a feminist artist ahead of his time”. A claim he justifies by saying “his delight in the vagina sets him apart as an artist who not only lusts after but genuinely adores women.” Jones expounds on this theory citing the misogyny explicit in Schiele’s contemporaries, from Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon on. You can read the full review here.
On the other side of the Atlantic in New York the Neue Galerie is hosting the exhibition Egon Schiele: Portraits. Four times the size of the Courtauld exhibition, Portraits gives a much wider look at his oeuvre from his student days to his death 12 years later. Consisting of paintings, drawings, and sculpture the exhibition documents an evolution of the artist's style, both pre- and post-imprisonment.
In April of 1912 Schiele spent 24 days in jail on a charge of public immorality for exposing minors to his erotic art in his studio. The previous year he had been forced to leave the Czech town of Krumau for working with a nude model outdoors. These incidents had a profound effect upon Schiele, especially the imprisonment. Which saw him adopted a more conventional attitude to morality steering away explicit sexuality subject matter to the more traditional.
In his critique of the Neue Galerie exhibition New York critic Ken Johnson said “Of the approximately 125 items on view, only 11 are oil paintings, which is a good thing. Except for a lovely, large 1915 picture of his wife, Edith, in a vibrant striped dress, Schiele’s paintings are overworked, dark and turgid. His drawings are nimble and nuanced. Working on paper with pencil, charcoal, ink, gouache, watercolor and crayons, often using different mediums to achieve diverse effects within the same picture, Schiele was as responsive to his own impulses as he was to the human reality of his subjects.” You can the full review here.
Any examination of Schiele’s work confirms Johnson’s view except Johnson misses Schiele’s compositional dexterity. His ability to dissect the picture plane with his lines and his restricted use of color are the elements that make Schiele’s works sing.