“Bodies have their own light which they consume to live: they burn, they are not lit from the outside.” Egon Schiele
What is the message in a portrait?
Egon Schiele’s 1909 “Portrait of a Woman” portrays a woman of considerable assurance. Orange hair, upturned eyebrows, head positioned to look down on the onlooker. The word that came to me when I first saw the art painting for January 25, 2021 was freedom. Freedom to be herself, to think, feel and live in accordance with her world view. And yet, there is a hint of sadness in her eyes and in the parting of her lips.
Egon Schiele’s work is complex, intense, even intimidating. A protégé and friend of Gustav Klimt, he is known as an early exponent of Expressionism. His work scandalized Viennese society, even as explicit images were readily purchased by private collectors. Wherever he went, he raised controversy.
“I was in love with everything- I wanted to look with love at the angry people so that their eyes would be forced to respond; and I wanted to bring gifts to the envious and tell them that I am worthless.”
For Egon Schiele, 1918 was to be a year of success and sorrow. In February, his mentor and friend Gustav Klimt died from a stroke and pneumonia. In March, Egon Schiele’s work was given the main exhibition space in the Vienna Secession’s forty-ninth annual exhibition. It was a marvelous commercial success for him. And then tragedy came in October. His wife Edith, who was six months pregnant, died in October from influenza. Three days later he succumbed to the same fate.
During those last three days, Egon Schiele created several sketches of his late wife.
Egon Schiele was only twenty-eight when he died, but his legacy continues to be influential. The expressive quality of his work and sharp brushstrokes embody an emotional energy that cannot be ignored.
“And yet, for my art and for my loved ones, I will gladly endure to the end.” Egon Schiele