Lot 9
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EGON SCHIELE | Triestiner Fischerboot (Trieste Fishing Boat)

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 GBP
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  • Egon Schiele
  • Triestiner Fischerboot (Trieste Fishing Boat)
  • oil and pencil on canvas
  • 70 by 70cm.
  • 27 1/2 by 27 1/2 in.
  • Painted in 1912.


(possibly) Heinrich Böhler, Vienna Sergius Pauser, Vienna (acquired circa 1952)

Galerie St. Etienne, New York (acquired from the above in September 1962)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Exhibition, Part I, 1964, no. 40, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Boat) New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, 1965, no. 25, illustrated in the catalogue (titled The Boat, as dating from circa 1912 and with incorrect measurements)

Munich, Haus der Kunst, Egon Schiele, 1975, no. 46, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)

New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Summer Exhibition, 1980

Venice, Palazzo Grassi, XLI. Biennale di Venezia: Le Arti a Vienna, dalla sezessione alla caduta dell’Imperio Asburgico, 1984, no. 1187

Vienna, Künstlerhaus, Traum und Wirklichkeit: Wien 1870-1930, 1985, no. 15/8/3 (as dating from 1908 and with incorrect measurements)

New York, Galerie St. Etienne, Viennese Design and the Wiener Werkstätte, 1986, no. 126

Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele. Dall’art nouveau all’espressionismo, 2001-02, no. 97, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)

Trieste, Civico Museo Revoltella, Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka: l'età d'oro di Vienna con I suoi maestri, 2002

Lugano, Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano, Villa Malpensata, Egon Schiele, 2003, no. 24, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)

Seoul, Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul Arts Centre, Gustav Klimt. In Search of the 'Total Artwork', 2009, no. 132, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (with incorrect measurements)


Otto Kallir, Egon Schiele: Œuvre-Katalog der Gemälde, New York & Vienna, 1966, no. 172, illustrated p. 347 (with incorrect measurements) Rudolf Leopold, Egon Schiele: Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings, London, 1973, no. 99, illustrated p. 535 (titled Fishing Boat in Trieste, as dating from 1908 and with incorrect measurements)

Anton Sailer, ‘Egon Schiele’, in Die Kunst, April 1975, illustrated in colour p. 223 (with incorrect measurements)

Gianfranco Malafarina, L’Opera di Schiele, Milan, 1982, no. 101, illustrated p. 85 (as dating from 1908 and with incorrect measurements)

Gianfranco Malafarina, Tout l'œuvre peint de Schiele, Paris, 1983, no. 101, illustrated p. 85 (as dating from 1908 or 1912 and with incorrect measurements)

Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, London, 1998, no. 247, illustrated p. 315; pl. 45, illustrated in colour p. 139 (with incorrect measurements)

Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: Life and Work, New York, 2003, pl. 45, illustrated in colour p. 139 (with incorrect measurements)

Tobias G. Natter, Die Welt von Klimt, Schiele und Kokoschka: Sammler und Mäzene, Cologne, 2003, illustrated in colour p. 184

Carla Carmona, Egon Schiele: Escritos, 1909-1918, Madrid, 2014, p. 81

Tobias G. Natter (ed.), Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings 1909-1918, Cologne, 2017, no. 99, illustrated in colour pp. 277 & 518 (with incorrect measurements)

Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online, www.egonschieleonline.org, no. P247, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

'It is of the utmost necessity that you finally come to visit Trieste! […] I am currently sitting at the café of this new large hotel at the pier; it is teeming with noble, pure, luscious colors – tremendous!' Letter from Egon Schiele in Trieste to Anton Peschka in Vienna, May 1912


Painted in 1912, Triestiner Fischerboot is a fascinating and unique work in the œuvre of Egon Schiele, created in the aftermath of what was arguably the most tumultuous and life-changing experience for the artist. Based on an everyday scene he would have observed in the harbour of Trieste during a brief visit in May of that year, Schiele transforms the image of a simple fishing boat into a pictorial marvel, using flat patches of pigment to build a mosaic-like composition. It is a synergy of the decorative and the symbolic that makes this one of the most fascinating images of Schiele’s opus.

Furthermore, the breaking down of forms and the semi-abstract manner of this work demonstrate the artist’s pivotal role in the wider context of European avant-garde painting. The year 1912 was marked by key developments that would have a lasting influence on the direction of twentieth-century art, from Picasso’s and Braque’s Cubist inventions to Orphism, Expressionism and Futurism. Artists across Europe were experimenting with a new pictorial language, and Triestiner Fischerboot reflects Schiele’s place in this unique moment in the development of Modernism.

In the summer 1911 Schiele and the model Wally Neuzil settled in the town of Neulengbach, some twenty miles west of Vienna. The artist’s very presence in the small country town scandalised his conservative neighbours, and his bohemian lifestyle and his use of local children as models drew specific criticism. When a retired naval officer’s daughter asked Schiele and Wally to help her run away, the couple found themselves in a precarious position. Although they returned the girl to her parents, the father had already pressed charges against Schiele and the artist spent twenty-four days in a prison cell.

This experience - and particularly the loss of freedom it entailed - had a marked effect on Schiele’s life and work. After his release from prison, he could no longer stay in Neulengbach, and his belongings were sent to Vienna, where he was temporarily staying with his mother. Probably driven by a need to embrace new experiences in an attempt to suppress the grim memories of that spring, Schiele planned to spend the summer travelling. His reduced productivity over the past weeks and legal expenses certainly had consequences on his financial situation, and his initial travel plans were cut short. Having set off in Wally’s company to the Wörthersee in the Carinthian region in southern Austria, he continued to Trieste on his own, staying in the Adriatic port for several days in mid-May 1912.

Schiele had fond memories of his previous visits to Trieste, where his parents had spent their honeymoon and where he often travelled by train, including several times with his sister Gerti. During the summers of 1907 and 1908, he painted several small-scale oils depicting boats in the town’s harbour (fig. 1). Returning to Trieste in 1912 was certainly an invigorating experience for the artist, who took joy in observing his lively Mediterranean surroundings and, sitting in local cafés, wrote enthusiastic letters to his friend, the painter Anton Peschka in Vienna (fig. 2). As Jane Kallir writes: ‘Trieste, a bustling port at the Italian edge of the monarchy, had always been one of his favorite haunts. He had often gone there with Gerti, but not since 1908 had he generated so many pictures of the ships and brightly colored fishing boats that filled the harbor. “You can do as much here in eight days as you can in a year in Vienna,” he enthusiastically informed Peschka, who he hoped would come south to join him’ (J. Kallir, op. cit., 2003, p. 140).

Schiele’s 1912 visit to Trieste is well documented, and the art historian and founder of the original Neue Galerie in Vienna, Otto Kallir, included the present work in his catalogue raisonné of Schiele’s paintings with a date of 1912. In his catalogue published several years later, Rudolf Leopold ascribed this work to 1908, pointing to the similar boats that appear in two oils from that year (J. Kallir, op. cit., 1998, nos. 113 & 115; fig. 1). However, these boats, with their decorative bows, were ubiquitous  in the region. Jane Kallir argues that ‘any superficial resemblance between this large, fully mature work on canvas and Schiele’s earlier small boat paintings on cardboard is obviated when the originals are compared. The boats themselves are naturally similar, since the setting is the same; virtually identical boats also appear in the watercolor studies dating from Schiele’s May 1912 trip to Trieste, and it may be assumed that the present painting was done in Vienna the following fall’ (ibid., p. 314). Tobias Natter, in his 2017 catalogue of Schiele's oils, also dates this painting to 1912.

Depicting a boat against a backdrop of sea and sky, the work unites the natural and the man-made in a peculiar, yet harmonious and vivid composition. Built out of bright patches of pure colour, the boat and its rippled, rhythmically linear reflection in the water create a shimmering, highly decorative effect that represents a legacy of Schiele’s mentor Gustav Klimt. With a dramatic use of foreshortening and perspective Schiele has turned a modest fishing boat into a dominating presence that occupies almost the entire canvas. Combining the elevated perspective for the inside of the boat with a frontal depiction of its bow, the artist creates a highly unusual, almost vertiginous effect reminiscent of Paul Cézanne’s still-lives. The round shape of the vessel, with its mast and rigging forming a triangular shape that disappears beyond the scope of the canvas, unify various elements into a harmonious pictorial whole.

‘Despite their tendency to geometric structuring, Schiele’s compositions never follow a strict formal theory such as the ones we know from Cubism or Constructivism. Instead, Schiele always structures his pictures on the basis of an intensely personal, selective process of imagination and perception’ (Franz Smola in Klimt, Schiele, Moser, Kokoschka, Vienna 1900 (exhibition catalogue), Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2005-06, p. 200). Like many of Schiele’s landscapes, the present work has a meditative quality that can be linked to the artist’s admiration of Gothic art. In parallel to his German contemporaries, the Expressionist painters of Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, Schiele appreciated the use of non-naturalistic perspective in medieval stained glass, woodcuts and illuminated manuscripts. The depiction of the boat reflects Schiele’s debt to Gustav Klimt’s flattened forms and experiments with the compression of pictorial space, while the undulating lines of the water surface signal the influence of the Jugendstil style of the Secession.

It has often been pointed out that Schiele’s landscapes and townscapes resemble his depictions of the human form: ‘Schiele’s landscapes are repeatedly characterized as anthropomorphic visions that transform trees and towns into metaphors for the human figure and as melancholic elegies exhibiting a readily perceptible fascination with death. The landscapes are thus seen as functioning much like the self-portraits. Their anthropomorphic forms reiterate the anguished explorations of personal identity more famously executed in the artist’s images of the human body’ (Kimberly A. Smith, Between Ruin and Renewal: Egon Schiele’s Landscapes, New Haven, 2004, p. 139). It is tempting to extend this metaphorical reading to the present composition, particularly in the light of recent events in Schiele’s life. Like his depictions of Krumau (figs. 3 & 5), the scene is devoid of human presence and, drifting in what appears to be open sea, the boat can be seen as a powerful symbol of the artist’s state of mind. The melancholic, ghostly atmosphere of the ship conveys the same haunted vision so beautifully expressed in Schiele’s portraiture.

In adopting the square format for this work, Schiele challenged the traditional notion of landscape or seascape painting with a foreground and a background, transforming the canvas into a decorative plane and creating a mosaic-like composition. Schiele’s great achievement was to create a scene of an ethereal, meditative quality, with the aim of capturing the state of mind or evoking a mood, and allowing his work to attain the quality of an object of meditation as well as of a subjective view of the scene. In this he was indebted to Klimt, who was using the square format for his landscapes since the last years of the nineteenth century, imbuing his compositions with both a decorative and symbolic character (fig. 6). It was around the same time that Claude Monet started using the square canvas for his depictions of waterlilies. Like Monet and Klimt, Schiele used this format to negate the traditional notions of perspective; it allowed him to develop a new approach to pictorial representation, treating the entire canvas as a continuous flat surface, filled with patterns and undulating shapes.

In 1961 Otto Kallir wrote to Sergius Pauser regarding both this work and Mutter mit zwei Kindern II which is now in the Leopold Museum, Vienna. Pauser recalled: ‘I bought the two pictures around 10 years ago with the contents/estate of the studio of a deceased painter who was himself an imitator of Schiele (albeit a very bad one!)’. From this description Kallir identified Heinrich Böhler, a painter who formed part of Schiele’s circle in Vienna. In Rudolf Leopold’s 1972 monograph of Schiele’s paintings he also identifies Böhler as the first owner of this work. Heinrich Böhler (1881-1940) was 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. Böhler bought a significant number of Schiele's paintings and drawings in 1915, and paid the artist a monthly stipend of 200 Kronen during the war years. Böhler's collection contained seven oils by Schiele as well as numerous works on paper, several of which are now in Austrian museums.