Take Art: Egon Schiele

I actually think I became aware of Egon Schiele at the same time that I became aware of Gustav Klimt and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a common pairing. Stylistically you can definitely see some grounds for comparison in their work, though Schiele seems a lot less palatable to the majority than Klimt is. Klimt has been claimed by students in the same way that Van Gogh has — for every wall a poster, and it is usually the same limited choice of pictures that people choose from. This is in part thanks to Taschen’s poster books that I know are popular because they kept my walls and those of a lot of my friends covered at a point when we were trying to let everyone know that we were aesthetically hip. I decorated with a combination of the posters and the postcards and was happy with the effect. Whereas you can pretty much always expect to find sunflowers, night at the cafe, and the kiss on the wall of everyone Schiele is a more choice delicacy. Why? Is it perhaps that he had what might most charitably be called a problematic sexual history that included sex with under age girls? Is it that his images are more difficult to process sometimes? Sexuality burns through his paintings like a fever whereas Klimt has more of a satisfied glow. Schiele is a confrontational painter — his subjects looking straight at the viewer in a way that seems, to me at least, to be markedly different from how the people in Klimt’s paintings watch you, make you complicit in whatever they are doing, or mutely acknowledge you as some kind of voyeur. The figures are more angular, seem less comfortable. Schiele’s work seems less rooted in a kind of bourgeois bohemia and  as a result escapes the trap of history that some of his contemporaries are burdened with. His work is very modern and by that I mean that it still seems fresh and full of vitality, a leanness of stroke and effortless conversion of thought and movement into image. You look at one of his paintings and you can hardly imagine him over-working a piece (I speculate here, he may have been as troubled in his process as everyone else; his life hardly seems to have been perfect). There is an immediacy to the work though, and whereas Klimt might fit nicely with some smooth cocktail jazz Schiele always made me think of Joy Division.

3 Replies to “Take Art: Egon Schiele”

  1. I couldn’t agree more… one of the most intelligent and lucid blogs I’ve read baout Schiele. Spot on.

    And thanks for the plug about my book!

    Always glad to meet other Schiele fans.

    best,

    Lewis

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