Impressionist & Modern Art

Egon Schiele’s Century of Shock

By Kathleen White

At the dawn of the 20th century, artist Egon Schiele scandalized Viennese society with his fraught and sexually frank portraits rendered in idiosyncratic and pulsating lines. Together with an unconventional lifestyle – he lived out of wedlock with his conspicuously young mistress Wally – the artist courted controversy throughout his brief but storied life.

This year marks both the 100th anniversary of the end of the Vienna Modernist era and the centennial of Schiele's death (he succumbed to the Spanish flu of 1918 at the age of 28). One hundred years on, Schiele's groundbreaking artistic vision is still shocking audiences. In 1912, Schiele was briefly but infamously imprisoned for drawings deemed "pornographic," and just this year, exhibition advertisements prominently featuring his nudes were banned from the London metro system for their explicit subject matter.

Egon Schiele (Detail). (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images) Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In response to the ban, the posters' unclad figures were covered by slogans, reading "100 years old but still too daring today," speaking to the enduring censorship and cultural conservatism that Schiele's stark and unidealized portraits still face even within the world's metropolitan centers. 

It was this artistic daring and unfettered break with tradition that made Schiele one of the most visionary artists of the 20th century. A forerunner of Expressionism, Schiele inspired a generation of artists to follow, including Oskar Kokoschka and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Emblematic of Schiele's burgeoning creative style is his early drawing Stehendes Mädchen im Hemd, mit Schwarzen Strümpfen und Rotem Tuch (1911), which will come to auction in the Impressionist & Modern Evening Sale (14 May, New York). 


The art world isn’t shying away from the hot-button artist, with centennial exhibitions dedicated to his oeuvre dominating the year’s cultural calendar at institutions throughout Europe and the US.

Egon Schiele: The Jubilee Show (through 11 November) at the Leopold Museum – the very exhibition whose advertisements reignited Schiele-fueled controversy – brings together a powerful combination of paintings, works on paper and archival materials in the artist’s home city of Vienna, another of his favored subject matters. The artist also reunites with his mentor Gustav Klimt in two state-side exhibitions, Klimt and Schiele: Drawn (through 28 May) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, followed by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele: 1918 Centenary(opening 28 June) at New York’s Neue Galerie.

Meanwhile, be sure to see Stehendes Mädchen im Hemd, mit Schwarzen Strümpfen und Rotem Tuch at Sotheby's New York galleries, on view through 14 May.

To learn more about Egon Schiele, click here. 

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