1890 Tulln – 1918 Vienna
Besides Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele ranks among the most outstanding artists of Viennese Modernism. While still studying art in Vienna, Schiele rapidly developed his own, unmistakeable language of form. Starting out from Art Nouveau, he combined ornamental structure with a fractured line and expressive colouring. Egon Schiele was born in Tulln in 1890 and grew up in humble conditions. Despite the protests of his uncle and guardian, Leopold Czihaczek, Schiele took the demanding entrance exam at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1906. However, he dropped out after only three years, due to fierce controversies with his professor, Christian Griepenkerl, who was opposed to all innovation in the visual arts. In 1909, Schiele founded the New Art Group together with such young artist friends as Anton Faistauer and Franz Wiegele. That same year, the group first presented itself at the Vienna Salon Pisko, but, after several exhibitions that were to follow, remained only loosely connected.
Schiele’s portraits, figural compositions, and landscapes are frequently governed by the tensions revolving around the subjects of love and solitude, life and death. The motif of coming into existence and subsequent decay is a constantly recurring theme in his art and most impressively rendered in the Sunflowers (1911). Shining, vigorous blossoms juxtaposed with dark, withered leaves symbolize the cycle of life.
In 1912, Schiele moved to Neulengbach, where a most productive period began, which, however, was brought to an abrupt end by the so-called Neulengbach Affair: Schiele was accused of the dissemination of immoral drawings and sexual abuse of a minor. After numerous exhibitions and travels, 1914 brought the next turning point in Schiele’s life. He separated from his long-time companion Wally Neuzil in order to marry Edith Harms. The painting Death and the Maiden from 1915, definitely a self-portrait of the artist, might be considered an artistic digestion of his new life situation. The painting is reminiscent of Klimt’s famous Kiss (1907/8), with Schiele translating the motif into the formal vocabulary of early Expressionism, manifesting itself in dissonant tones and angular contours.
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