The first time I saw the work of the Expressionist Egon Schiele, I was repelled by the raw and dark quality of his all-too-realistic nudes.
I'm over it.
Woman with green stockings
I was fortunate to see more of his work on a recent visit to Vienna, at both the Leopold Museum and the Belvedere Museum. As well, his work is currently on display at New York's Neue Galerie, "Egon Schiele: Portraits", until January 19. Concurrently, the Neue Galerie is showing "Austrian Portraiture in the Early Twentieth Century", featuring works by Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Max Oppenheimer.
To understand what can appear to be the brutal realism of his nude portraits, it helps to remember that he was rebelling against the heavy-handed conformity and conservatism of Austrian society at the turn of the century. Mentored by Gustav Klimt, he no doubt chafed under the "prettiness" of Klimt's vision, and decided to come to terms in his own way with the grittiness of society as he saw it. Born in Austria in 1890, Schiele died at the age of 28 in the Spanish Flu Epidemic, along with his wife and unborn child. His twenties had been influenced by the horrors of the first World War and the years leading up to it.
Seeing the beauty of his landscapes opened my eyes to the painterly qualities of his work.
|Krumau Town Crescent|
I was especially drawn to the rhythms of his towns and villages.
|House with Drying Laundry|
I began to see that he took a painterly pleasure in the qualities of colour and texture in these paintings, and in some of the nudes as well.
|Mother and child|
And then look at the quality of line in this drawing.
Instead of seeing Schiele as the "Bad Boy" of German Expressionism, resorting to shock value to gain an audience, I now regard him to be a talented artist with the courage to examine the disturbing elements of his society, with its alienation and its poverty: the full experience of the human condition. And I will seek out other opportunities to see his work.