NEW YORK, NY.-
Tracing the arc of his artistic development, Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line is on view at Galerie St. Etienne through March 2, 2019. Galerie St. Etienne
has presented more than 15 Egon Schiele exhibitions since 1941, when the gallery introduced the work of the artist to the U.S. The exhibition leverages the gallerys access to rare and newly authenticated work with 46 watercolors and drawings curated from numerous private collections, many of which have not been exhibited publically in more than 20 years.
Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line marks the 100th anniversary of Schieles death in 1918 and links together Schieles drawings to tell the story of the artists brief life, which ended when he died of the Spanish flu at age 28. One of the greatest draughtsmen of all times, Schiele drew almost daily, using the medium to record his fluctuating responses to the basic problems of human existence: sexual desire, personal identity, and the tenuousness of life. His worksand the works in the exhibitionthus function as a visual diary, tracing the artists emotional and creative development from adolescence to adulthood.
The exhibition coincides with the November publication of Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online, the first digital catalogue raisonné for the artist from Kallir Research Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Jane Kallir, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne. Much of what is known today about the artist is due to research by Jane Kallir, who authored the catalogue raisonné, and her grandfather Otto Kallir, the gallerys founder. Jane Kallir, who has written nine books on Egon Schiele and contributed to numerous international exhibition catalogues, is recognized as the leading scholar on the artist.
The exhibition begins with a 1906 self-portrait done the year Schiele gained admittance to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Art, showing the 16-year-old proudly wearing the traditional garb of an artist. By 1910, Schiele had dropped out of the Academy, frustrated with its conservative rules. During this breakthrough year, he made his first tentative explorations of female sexuality. At the start of the year, his most reliable female model was his sister Gerti, a totally unthreatening subject who would go on to model professionally. She can be seen in his Portrait of a Woman in an Orange Hat, 1910.
In early 20th-century Austria, young men were encouraged to sow their wild oats with prostitutes before settling down at around the age of 25. However, when Schiele left the urban environment of Vienna for the rural town of Neulengbach, his open cohabitation with his model, Wally Neuzil, raised eyebrows. In April 1912, a teenage runaway asked the couple to take her to her grandmother in Vienna. Although they brought the girl back a day later, her father had already filed charges of kidnapping and statutory rape. The charges were dropped once an investigation was conducted. But a new charge stuck: the artist was sentenced to 24 days in jail for pubic immorality, because minors had visited his studio and been exposed to erotic works of art. Included in the exhibition is a 1912 self-portrait, painted shortly after Schiele was released from prison that reflects his traumatized emotional state.
True to contemporary custom, Schiele married at the age of 25, choosing not Wally but a proper bourgeois young lady, Edith Harms. Whereas Wally had been a full partner in Schieles artistic mission, Edith found it hard to adjust to her husbands bohemian ways. Less out of prudery than embarrassment, she was reluctant to pose naked. She feared, understandably, being recognized by the couples family, friends, and acquaintances. A 1915 portrait, Woman Holding Flower (Edith Schiele), evokes the subjects wistful sadness.
Given his wifes reluctance to pose, most of Schieles later nudes depict professional models. In 1917-18, the artist reverted to an almost classical realism. In tandem with a more three-dimensional coloring style, his lines became smoother and rounder. This increased naturalism served to accentuate the subjects autonomy. Schieles nudes and semi-nudes are considered among the first modern women in art; the first to command their own sexuality.
In an essay written for the exhibition, Jane Kallir writes, Schieles premature death leaves hanging the tantalizing question: what would have happened next? His oeuvre, comprising roughly 3,000 works on paper and over 300 paintings, may be interpreted as a visual coming-of-age story. Like many adolescents, the artist sought answers to the most basic mysteries of human existence: what does it mean to live, to love, to suffer and to die? Whether or not he ever found the answers, it is the process of asking, the search itself, that gives meaning and poignancy to his art.