I gave Egon Schiele a biographical short shrift on the June 13th post The List. I had meant to get back to him and am reminded of that by Prospero’s blog post Carnal knowledge. There’s an exhibition of his work of Courtauld Gallery in London. According to Prospero, “his creations are not found in any public collection in Britain, and have never been given a dedicated exhibition in any of the country’s museums.”
I have had several of his creations in media files since June. To continue…
But the exertions of the bohemian life begun to take a toll, and in 1911 Schiele moved into the countryside with one of his lovers, Wally Neuzil, [shown on The List] who appears frequently on the walls of this exhibition.
A local girl also took refuge with them after running away from home, and Schiele was arrested and accused of abducting and raping a minor. (He was not helped by the semi-pornographic drawings the police found in his home when they came looking for the girl, nor the hostility that his use of adolescent models had aroused among his neighbours.)
He was duly convicted on the grounds of public immorality, and sentenced to 24 days in prison. The experience shocked him deeply, and his work became less overtly erotic. He moved back to Vienna, and married Edith Harms in 1915. She came from a more privileged background than Neuzil but, judging from the portraits in this show, was just as willing to pose provocatively.
It is testament to Schiele’s precociousness that during the war he was encouraged to continue with his work by his military superiors and was never sent to the front. He carried on exhibiting in Austria as well as in the rest of Europe.
Just before he died, the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum in Budapest bought “Two Girls Embracing (Two Friends)” (pictured), one of the highlights of the Courtauld’s display. One of his better known works, it is a typically daring image, both in composition and subject. Wearing the dark, thigh-high stockings that identify them as prostitutes, the two women are positioned diagonally across the blank page, one clenched between the legs of the other.
There is little sentiment or pity in Schiele’s depiction and the women have not been made beautiful. But they look languid and coolly content. Staring nonchalantly back at the artist standing over them, they seem full of trust, as if confident that they are in the hands of an original and significant talent.
NOTE: The two girls entwined here are not pictured on Prospero’s blog post, but they are very similarly positioned. They were also entwined in precisely the same way on the June 13th post, where Egon Schiele had died at age 28 during the 1918 flu pandemic.