Egon Schiele Artist Biography

A great innovator of modern figure painting, Egon Schiele is known for his remarkable nudes, but he also painted landscapes and allegorical works. Egon Schiele's body of work is noted for the intensity and the large number of self-portraits he produced. The twisted body shapes that characterize Schiele's paintings and drawings make the artist a notable exponent of Expressionism. The most important collection of Schiele's work is housed in the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Egon Schiele was born in 1890, in Tulln, Austria. He started sketching at an early age and by 1906 was already developing a distinctive style, as can be seen in 'Madonna and Child' (1906).

Influenced to a large degree by the Symbolist movement, Egon Schiele studied at the Vienna Academy from 1906 to 1909 and in 1907 he met Gustav Klimt, one of the leading members of View Symbolism. Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele remained close friends until their deaths.

By 1909, Egon Schiele started to paint portraits. In his use of non-naturalistic colour and unusual angles, these portraits already highlight Schiele’s unique vision, for example, ‘Standing Female Nude with Crossed Arms’ (1910). As well as Gustav Klimt, the influences of Edvard Munch and Vincent van Gogh can be seen in this early work. In 1912 Schiele was briefly imprisoned charged with indecency due to the explicit nature of his paintings. 

With the outbreak of the First World War, he was enlisted to serve in the Austrian Army and could not continue his painting whilst in military service. Egon Schiele died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Egon Schiele’s paintings, whether portraits, self-portraits or nudes convey a sense of both the physical and the emotional. His numerous self-portraits, frequently adopting awkward sexual postures, seem to suggest a profound unease with the body and distress at its limitations. His use of striking colours and linear technique help create this feeling of anxiety. In his most powerful portrayals of the male and female form the figures express in their postures, and in his use of pencil, gouache or watercolour, emotions from despair through to passion.

 Egon Schiele received a certain amount of success in his lifetime, but his work was not truly appreciated outside of Austria until the Sixties when it was agreed that he was one of the most important exponents of Expressionism.

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