21 December 2014

Egon Schiele at the Courtauld

In a post here last year about the Viennese portraits show at the National Gallery, I pointed out that:
There are no works by Egon Schiele (1890-1918) in UK public collections, so we should take the opportunity to view The Family (Self-Portrait) 1918 and Erich Lederer, 1912 while we can 
Perhaps one day we will get a chance to see Schiele’s landscapes eg Landscape at Krumau (1916, left) as well as portraiture. For now, the Courtauld Gallery in London is exhibiting Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude, a selection of the nude studies which were his predominant legacy. Schiele was only 28 when he died (in the H5N1 influenza pandemic, eight months after his mentor, Gustav Klimt) so most of his work dates from the ten years following his first exhibition in 1908. In 1911 he began a relationship with Wally Neuzil who had modelled for Klimt. Neuzil walked out in 1915 when Schiele decided to marry Edith Harms. She would die of influenza three days before her husband. Wally and later Edith modelled for Schiele.

The works on show at the Courtauld are all on paper, mostly of women and “some drawings of an explicit nature” are more so than others. Woman with Black Stockings, 1913 is not being shown in this post, but it can be found on the Guardian website. Schiele’s ability to combine very fast line sketching in black chalk or pencil and vivid watercolour or gouache as outline or contrast is far more impressive in the reality than in reproduction, for example, Seated Nude Girl with Pigtails (1910, below left) and Before the Mirror (1913, below right):

and Standing Nude with Stockings (1914, below left and detail in the poster above) and Crouching Woman with Green Kerchief (1914, below right) are definitely worth seeing in the original: 

His self-portraits are no less unsparing - Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands (Self-Portrait) (1910, below left) and Nude Self-Portrait in Grey with Open Mouth (1910, below right):

and the overt sexuality of his ‘friends’ pictures must have been on the edge even in Freud’s Vienna - Friends (1914, below left) and Two Girls Embracing (Two Friends) (1915, below right):

Schiele’s life was cut short, but perhaps it is not too fanciful to think that if he had painted for another forty years (possibly as a refugee in the US by 1935), these “radical nudes” would be seen as one aspect of a lifetime’s work rather than the artist’s major preoccupation. Anyone interested in Egon Schiele should try to see this exhibition, possibly not everyone’s first choice for a family outing during the holidays though. The captioning of the exhibits is unusually helpful and informative, an encouragement to buy the catalogue but at £25 for a 160 page paperback, it seems rather expensive, as usual at the Courtauld, I’m afraid.

Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude continues to 18 January 2015.

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