Egon Schiele: An Exhibition

 

 

It was back in April of 2011 at an evening drawing class when I first heard about an upcoming exhibition at the Richard Nagy Gallery on Old Bond Street, which was to be run from 19th May to 30th June that same year.

 This was to be the first exhibition in London dedicated to the Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele for some twenty years. It was also the first Schiele exhibition which focussed on the theme of women, which is surprising as almost half of all the artist’s work depicts women in the same way. I was immediately excited as I had been reading about Schiele with great interest for about a year, and buying every book I could find. This enabled me to study his work more closely.

Sadly there are no examples of Schiele work to be found in any of the British public collections. Most of his works are in either New York, Vienna, or as the pieces in this exhibition, in private collections. For this reason I had travelled to London in October of 2010 to see the exhibition “Treasures from Budapest: European Masterpieces from Leonardo to Schiele” at the Royal Academy of Art. While this was a great exhibition, only one piece by Schiele had been included.

Therefore I was so delighted to have the opportunity to see a room full of Schiele’s work; as the pictures in this exhibition were all from private collections, and given that some were for sale, the opportunity for me to see them  may never come again. Of the forty or so pieces, many were drawings, and while I enjoy Schiele’s paintings, it is his drawings I’m particularly interested in. I spent three hours studying every detail and writing notes. While I was there I learnt that six or seven of the pieces were for sale. Those with colour going for one to three million pounds and three hundred thousand pounds as a starting price for the drawings. I feel sure that Schiele would not have been surprised by this at all, as he did not lack in  self-confidence and knew that he was an artistic genius. This is certainly not the case with all artists who left an indelible mark on art history. Van Gogh for example, whose painting of his bedroom inspired Egon to paint his own bedroom, would I think it’s fair to say, have been amazed at his lasting impact on the art world and that his paintings are exhibited worldwide and sold for multi million pounds.

 

It was because of Schiele’s youth and his lack in both social and financial standing, that he was not so far removed from the street girls that he often drew. There are few examples in art history of male artists depicting women where this was the case. Street children were easily encouraged to model for Schiele by offers of food and shelter from the streets. Also, of course, there was no one to ask where these children were; not in Vienna anyway. Twenety miles west in the small town of Neulengbach, it was a different story however. Schiele was already frowned upon in this small town because of his flamboyant nature and that he was not married to his live-in lover; also, he had many children coming and going from his house, not to mention the nude models that had been seen in his garden. His undoing was to allow a young runaway girl to stay with him and Wally (Valerie Neuzil). He was accused of abduction by her parents, and even though this was to be later disproved, the damage was done owing to the fact that the police raided his property and confiscated one hundred drawings of so called obscene nature. He was imprisoned for twenty-two days for these images being accessible to children, with one of the paintings even being burned by the judge at his trial. Schiele was fortunate in that he had at least two steadfast friends in Wally andHeinrich Benesch, who visited him in jail and brought him art supplies.

This exhibition, while focussed on women, did include some self portraits. A nude self portrait, painted in 1912, at least eight months after his prison ordeal, has something about it that reminds me of those watercolours he did in prison. Maybe it’s the colours used or the fact that he still looks saddened and hurt. The prison self portraits were of course drawn without a mirror, but drawn from memories and the emotional feelings at the time probably took a while to dissipate. The first thing I noticed about the pictures as I entered the exhibition was how bright the colours were. I had not expected this. For example, in the “Blonde Woman with Red Muff, 1911” the red was so bright and the orange of the dress almost illuminescent. It was painted in water colour and gouache, and maybe it’s because gouache does tend to have extra depth in colour. Possibly they’ve been stored in the dark for years?

 

Among the many details I noticed about the pictures at this exhibition that was most interesting, was the evidence of a rubber being used on the picture “Dark Haired Girl, 1910”  the double self portrait 1910, had a signature that was unfamiliar to me. Schiele signed his work in a few different ways; some used more often than others. This was a mark I had never seen before on any of his works. This piece was not even signed elsewhere as was often the case with his simple . The evidence of a rubber being used in “Dark Haired Girl 1910” was, I think, more about re-using a piece of paper; being done quickly, not everything is rubbed out as if done at speed. It is well documented in Jane Kallir’s and Alessandra Cominis’ writings, to mention but two, that Schiele didn’t use rubbers. I think he must have tried to recycle any paper he could, as he often ran out and didn’t always have money to buy more. I have seen evidence with my own eyes that he sometimes drew on both sides of the paper, even when the paper was very thin. The exhibition has an example of this in “Kneeling Blonde Nude 1914”. Standing in front of the picture one can clearly see the lines coming through from the reverse side.

To conclude then, this exhibition will stay with me in the catalogue that is well planned and has many of my favourite pieces in; now being one of my favourite Schiele books. The close-up photographs show much of what I have written about here, but there’s nothing to compare with the utter joy I felt when standing in that room surrounded by Schiele originals and people who loved them. I spoke to a few people there, who were both young and old and of differing nationalities and all loved his work. It was a perfect day! I literally floated down Old Bond Street, too late now for anything but a momentary gaze at my other great love, Alexander McQueen’s store. Another London trip must be planned to pay homage to that creative genius.

References:

Egon Schiele, Exhibition Catalogue, ‘Women’

Egon Schiele, Drawing & Watercolours by Jane Kallir

Egon Schiele,  by Alessandra Comini