Executed in 1910, Stehender Akt is a striking example of Egon Schiele's radical nudes. Vividly colored and exquisitely delineated in black crayon, Schiele has accentuated the model’s nudity with shocking red highlights to her lips and chest. The explicit nature of the artist’s work struck a defiant stance in the face of his rigidly conservative training at Vienna’s Akademie der Bildenden Künste, which he had left the previous year after irreconcilable differences with the faculty. Upon his departure, Schiele began to make a name for himself within the city’s modern art scene, founding the Neuekunstgruppe and exhibiting at the second Internationale Kunstschau Wien at the invitation of Gustav Klimt. From their first meeting in 1907 until his death in 1918, Klimt would act as a father figure and artistic mentor to Schiele, who submitted to the exhibition three portraits executed in the older artist’s arch-Jugendstil style (see figs. 1 and 2).

Left: Fig. 1 Gustav Klimt, Hope, II, 1907-08, oil, gold and platinum on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Right: Fig. 2 Egon Schiele, Portrait of Anton Peschka, 1909, oil on canvas, Private Collection

Though deeply inspired by Klilmt’s work, in 1910 Schiele formulated his own inimitable aesthetic, removing the last vestiges of fin-de-siècle ornamentation and embracing the vigor of Expressionism for which he became famous. Discussing this pivotal early stage of the artist's career, Jane Kallir has written that “Though the Expressionist breakthrough is heralded in some 1909 drawings, the speed and extremity of Schiele's development in 1910 are such that his work leaves all prior efforts far behind. There is no precedent for the radical, garishly twisted nudes that appear almost at the very start of the year” (Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, New York, 1990, p. 391).

Schiele’s friend Heinrich Benesch echoes Kallir, recalling in 1965 that “The beauty of form and color that Schiele gave us did not exist before. His artistry as a draughtsman was phenomenal. The assurance of his hand was almost infallible… And everything was exactly right. If he happened to get something wrong, which was very rare, he threw the sheet away; he never used an eraser. Schiele only drew from nature. Most of his drawings were done in outline and only became more three-dimensional when they were colored. The coloring was always done without the model, from memory” (quoted in Reinhard Steiner, Egon Schiele, Cologne, 2017, p. 33). The present work was thus likely executed largely without the model, her presence necessary for no more than a few minutes under Schiele’s keen eye.

Fig. 3 Egon Schiele, Weiblicher Akt, 1910, gouache, watercolor and black crayon heightened with white on paper, Albertina, Vienna

Stehender Akt belongs to a small group of gouaches from this period which feature the dramatic use of white-heightening to outline the figures (see fig. 3). In these works, Schiele’s innovative use of unmixed distemper serves to isolate the figures from the surrounding sheet, projecting them forward and heightening the virulence of the non-naturalistic color applied to their bodies. As Barnaby Wright has commented, “This device serves to emphasize not only Schiele’s assertiveness as an artist but also the model’s nakedness as a subject” (quoted in Exh. Cat., London, The Courtauld Gallery, Egon Schiele, The Radical Nude, 2014-15, p. 110). The models themselves were often denied a sense of their own personality, however, and their physiognomies were often completely subsumed by the artist’s highly expressive style. Instead of functioning as subjects in their own right, Schiele’s nudes became vessels for self-expression, albeit one stemming from an ego riddled by a sense of angst and corporeal crisis.

Detail of the present work

Accordingly, it is often hard to discern the identity of many of Schiele’s models. Some were patients of Dr. Erwin von Graff, a gynecologist who allowed Schiele to draw in his surgery, while others came from the streets. The artist’s precarious finances precluded him from hiring professional or even regular models. Instead, his studio became a haven for ne’er-do-wells and bored adolescents who were drawn to his mercurial character and the promise of occasional pay. Nonetheless, Schiele exerted a strong influence on those who posed for him, a fact remarked on by Albert Paris von Gütersloh, who recalled that upon a softly spoken command to ‘stop’, “as if under the spell of his magic, they froze as they were–lying, standing, kneeling, relaxing, tying or untying, pulling down or up, combing themselves or scratching themselves–as though they had been banished to a timelessness or covered with lava, and then, in a twinkling, brought back to life. That is the immortal moment in which the transitory is transformed into the eternity of art” (quoted in Exh. Cat., Vienna, Albertina, Gustav Klimt–Egon Schiele: Zum Gedächtnis ihres Todes vor 50 Jahren, 1968, p. 74).

Fig. 4 Egon Schiele, Portrait of Dr. Oskar Reichel, 1910, gouache, watercolor and black crayon with white heightening, Private Collection

Stehender Akt’s first owner was Dr. Oskar Reichel, a wealthy Viennese physician and collector who became one of Schiele's most important patrons until about 1913 (see fig. 4). The pair were introduced by Schiele’s friend Arthur Roessler in late summer or early autumn 1910, and in a study for a portrait of Reichel executed that year, Schiele used the same technique of emphatic white-heightening as seen in the present work. Reichel often allowed Schiele to trade or resell the works he had previously acquired. This was the case with Stehender Akt, which was inventoried as part of the artist’s estate upon his death in 1918. It was then acquired by Max Wagner, a Viennese collector who amassed an extensive collection of Schiele’s works on paper and documentary material, a great deal of which came directly from Roessler and the artist’s sister, Melanie Schiele-Schuster. Wagner later bequeathed much of his collection to the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, as the ‘Egon-Schiele-Archiv’, whose stamp can be seen on the verso of the present work.

We would like to thank Dr. Claudia Seger for her help in researching the provenance of this work.