Schiele was introduced to Wally by Klimt, who had employed her as a model, and it was not long before she became his preferred model and muse. The pre-war period in which they were closely associated led to some of Schiele's most provocative and moving works. In the spring of 1911 they moved from Vienna to Krumau, his mother’s native town in present-day Czech Republic, setting up residence in a small garden house sited above the medieval town. Krumau’s distance from his controlling uncle, Leopold Czihaczek, as well as its magnificent architecture, greatly appealed to Schiele's sensibilities. Whilst in Krumau he cultivated a distinctly unconventional appearance, such as wearing outlandish clothing including a robe-like smock in his garden and a garishly checked suit in town, which did not endear the young painter to the conservative townspeople. Matters came to a head when Schiele was spotted drawing one of his models naked in the garden, which caused outrage amongst the locals. The artist promptly moved to Neulengbach, some twenty miles west of Vienna to escape further incidents.
Neulengbach was not to be the refuge the young couple had hoped for. Schiele was falsely accused of a series of charges, including kidnapping, and incarcerated pending trial. Wally displayed a devotion to him not nearly so forthcoming from most of his friends, though some did help to raise a case for his defence. After 24 days in jail he was duly acquitted, after it was found that the girl in question had chosen to run away from her parents, a retired naval officer and his wife, and had sought refuge with Egon and Wally who soon safely returned the girl to her parents. The pair of portraits (figs. 1 & 2) he subsequently created after his release from prison affirms his sense of personal commitment to her. Their relationship had evolved toward a state of partnership, even though at one stage Schiele made Wally sign a testimony that denied the fact that she was in love with him. Over the next three years Wally would not only remain Schiele’s favourite model, her auburn hair and piercing blue-green eyes are identifiable in many of the key works produced during this crucial period, but also an intrinsic player in his personal iconography. Jane Kallir describes how Wally can be seen taking up the role of fellow ‘seer’, often shown shrouded or with shielded eyes – she transcended the role of model to become his co-conspirator (J. Kallir, Egon Schiele’s Women, Munich, 2012, p. 153).
The eventual, and inevitable, separation was acutely painful for both lovers and this sensibility permeates a work such as Liebespaar (Selbstdarstellung mit Wally). By the end of 1914 financial insecurity and recognition of his growing maturity led Schiele to seek a more suitable partner than his model, and he revealed in a letter to Arthur Roessler: ‘I’m planning to marry – most advantageously, perhaps not Wal[ly]’ (quoted in Christian M. Nebehay, Egon Schiele 1890-1918. Leben, Breife, Gedichte, Salzburg, 1979, letter no. 754). To this end Schiele courted a pair of sisters who lived across from his studio on the Hietzinger Hauptstrasse. In due course he married the younger of the two, Edith, on 17th June 1915. Three days later he entered military training, having been drafted into the Austrian army some months before, bringing to an end his most innovative and prolific period of artistic production.
The artist’s major works prior to his marriage dealt with the complications surrounding his personal situation, of which a select group of works depicting himself either with a model or a Doppelgänger are the superlative examples. Double portraiture occupied a central role in Schiele’s œuvre providing abundant compositional possibilities. For instance, his iconoclastic work Kardinal und Nonne contained not only blasphemous provocation but also a nod to Klimt's Der Kuss (fig. 3) and barely veiled portraits of him and Wally. Other artists at the time also utilised the double-portait format to express complex emotional issues, such as Oskar Kokoschka compelling Die Windsbraut (fig. 4) which dealt with his tortured relationship with Alma Mahler. Over the next couple of years Schiele’s mode of representation became more psychologically compelling. The culmination of these powerful compositions is the haunting Tod und Mädchen (fig. 8), which is closely related to the present work. Jane Kallir writes of this transformation: ‘The ease with which Schiele […] was able to transmute personal experience into a universally valid symbolic image is indicative of the manner in which a more wholesome integration with his environment had affected his work. Though many of his later allegories continued to hinge on self-portraiture, they no longer focused on Schiele’s role as an artist, but on the larger human predicament' (J. Kallir, op. cit., New York, 1998, pp. 178-181).
The depiction of the challenging nature of sexual relationships, powerfully illustrated in the present work, is fundamental to the Northern Expressionist canon and the definitive subject of Schiele’s work. No other theme elicited such a rich seam of emotions that could be mined using such a complex approach to artistic expression. Alessandra Comini argues that the Viennese Expressionists, such as Schiele and Kokoschka, were given to allegorical expositions of psychological angst rather than the more axiomatic approach employed by their German counterparts (A. Comini, Egon Schiele’s Portraits, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1974, pp. 138-139). In this regard Schiele also shares a tendency towards personal mythologising with the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. At the end of the previous century Munch completed the first of many reiterations of his Vampire series (fig. 5), a theme that has much in common with Schiele’s own expressionist discourse. Schiele’s vampiric pose in Tod und Mädchen, Liebesakt (fig. 6), as well as the present work, harks back to a distinct vein of iconography embedded in Northern European Art – the conflation of sex with death. In other works from the period Schiele exhibits differing characteristics to those displayed in Liebespaar (Selbstdarstellung mit Wally). The emotional and physical dominance depicted in those earlier double portraits stands in stark contrast to the contemporaneous representations of the artist and his new spouse, Edith, in which a rag-doll Schiele appears to have surrendered his autonomy (fig. 7).
Schiele’s draughtsmanship is peerless in Liebespaar (Selbstdarstellung mit Wally). The artist’s dynamic handling of gouache is enhanced by febrile pencil marks that frenetically sweep across the sheet, delineating quadrants of animated colour. In his description of the current work, Rudolf Leopold identifies its careful tonalities: ‘The colour of the woman’s blouse contrasts with the darker clothes of the man, but it is also attuned with them. Schiele managed this by adding a trace of blue to both the reds of her blouse and the basically brownish tones of his vest and trousers. In addition, the areas of deep shadow have also been overpainted with blue. The several concentrations of brown, beginning with the man’s trousers and ending with his bluish-tinged hair, hold the composition together. The woman’s face is its centre. Her pale colour and half-open mouth, raised eyebrows, and crazed stare suggest intense arousal. The man’s gaze and the position of his head and body communicate something different, but a response no less ecstatic’ (R. Leopold, op. cit., 2009, p. 196).
The first owner of Liebespaar (Selbstdarstellung mit Wally) was Heinrich Böhler (1881-1940), an heir to the Böhler‐Werke steel‐producing factories. While the Böhler family were known to be patrons of the arts it was Josef Hoffmann, the celebrated Viennese architect and co-founder of the Vienna Secession, who introduced Heinrich Böhler to Schiele in 1914. They were to become close associates. Soon after the initial introduction from Hoffmann, Schiele took on Böhler as a pupil but, as Jane Kallir relates: 'Böhler soon turned out to be far more than just a student. Not only did Böhler supply Schiele with paint, canvas and models when they worked side by side, he also became a dedicated collector of the artist's work' (J. Kallir, ibid., New York, 1998, 173). Böhler bought a significant number of paintings and drawings in 1915, and paid Schiele a monthly stipend of 200 Kronen during the war years. Heinrich Böhler, along with his cousin Hans, an artist in his own right, often went with Schiele on painting excursions to Krumau. Böhler's collection contained seven oils by Schiele as well as numerous works on paper, several of which are now in Austrian museums. He was also the subject of several portraits on paper by Schiele. In 1917 the artist sketched a drawing as a study for an oil portrait of Böhler; however the painting was never executed due to Schiele's premature death the following year.
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