The Belvedere is devoting a comprehensive show to Egon Schiele (1890?1918), one of Austria’s most important twentieth-century artists, which is the first to focus on his self-portraits and portraits.
Schiele first worked in an academic style before creating a number of revolutionary portraits that departed from the traditional approach to portraiture and redefined this genre.
In his portraits the artist tried to capture his models’ mental states in a way characteristic of Austrian early Expressionism. Towards the end of his life Schiele ranked with Klimt as Vienna’s foremost portraitist.
A milestone in his recognition as an artist was the Österreichische Staatsgalerie (today the Belvedere) purchasing his portrait of Edith Schiele in 1918. This first acquisition of a painting for a public museum by Director Franz Martin Haberditzl laid the foundation stone for the Belvedere’s extensive Schiele collection today, a collection that includes many of the artist’s masterpieces.
Depicting people was a fundamental part of Schiele’s oeuvre and about one-third of the oil paintings from his mature work were portraits. (The other two thirds are roughly equally divided into landscapes and allegories.)
Portraits and self-portraits are even more prominent in Schiele’s drawings and watercolours. Considered as a whole, Schiele’s portraits and self-portraits are an incongruous mix of the revolutionary and conservative. One moment the artist moves towards new, radical ways of seeing the self, the next he reverts back to convention.
With about one hundred works - some on show in Austria for the first time - the exhibition presents Schiele’s development as an artist and his extraordinary accomplishments as a portraitist. Arranged chronologically, it documents the complex interaction between portraits and self-portraits and Schiele’s continuous interest in this genre.
Schiele, who was drawn to the subject of people from early adolescence, tended to view others through the mirror of himself. In his pioneering Expressionist self-portraits from the years 1910 and 1911, he took on many personalities, explored his own emotions and projected his reactions onto the people he was portraying at the time.
The artist only gradually developed a more objective approach to the people from his world. At the same time Schiele gained a more solid sense of self. On reaching maturity, Schiele had acquired an acute empathy with the human personality and his late portraits benefit from the same deep insights that made his early self-portraits come alive.
By linking the portrayals with correspondence between the artist and his collectors, new light is shed on the close ties between artists and patrons that were so characteristic of the Vienna art scene at the time.