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The Missouri Review 29.2 (2006) 97-108



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Portraits of an Artist


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Figure 1
Self-Portrait with Spread Fingers. Oil on Wood. 1911. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY, except where noted Wien Museum Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria
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In 1910, one of Austria's greatest architects, Otto Wagner, known for his art nouveau buildings, wanted to be painted by an up-and-coming artist. He planned for his portrait to be the first in a series of others of prominent Viennese artists and intellectuals, including Josef Hoffmann and Gustav Mahler. He thought he had found an artist to patronize in Egon Schiele. Coincidentally, the twenty-year-old painter was working to master a style of portraiture in which the sitter's personality was fully expressed. But after sitting for lengthy periods, the architect saw in Schiele's developing portrait the theatrical pose and bizarre gestures characteristic of the young artist's emerging style and canceled the entire project.


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Figure 2
Outstretched Nude with Green Stockings. 1914. Photo Credit: Visual Arts Library/Art Resource, NY Private Collection

That year Egon painted eleven portraits. In them he rendered tortured, emotional states against isolated, blank backgrounds. All of his stylized portraits reflected his own inner world. In fact, Egon Schiele's art was a means to learn about his life, his loves, his sexuality. He turned his attention inward, attempting to understand the world through knowledge of the self. He was his own greatest subject. His self-studies are revealing portrayals of a young man moving from precocious child and defiant student to respected artistic success by his midtwenties. [End Page 98]


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Figure 3
Portrait Friederick Maria Beer. 1914. Private Collection
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Figure 4
Nude on Her Stomach. Gouache and black crayon. 1917.

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Figure 5
Reclining Woman with Black Stockings. Gouache and black crayon. 1917. Private Collection
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Figure 6
Standing Nude, Facing Front (Self-Portrait). Watercolor. 1910. Photo Credit: Art Resource, NY Graphische Sammlung Albertine, Vienna, Austria
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Figure 7
Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Bent Head. Oil on Wood. 1912. Museum Leopold, Vienna, Austria
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Figure 8
The Green Stocking. Gouache and black crayon. 1914. Private Collection
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Figure 9
Three Girls. Watercolor and pencil. 1911. Private Collection
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In pursuit of self-identity, we all try on different faces and attitudes. Schiele did this on canvas. His poses, many of them nude, are sometimes monstrous and grotesque. To deflect charges of self-infatuation and exhibitionism, he exaggerated his physical slimness and paleness, gave himself impossibly long, disjointed limbs and a shock of electrified hair. He also took on grim or bizarre facial expressions. By mocking himself, he could more freely examine his body, moods and psyche. His images of an emaciated, disturbed young man convey the fear and disillusionment of youth and a sense of the tenuousness of the dividing line between sanity and madness. Like a Hamlet or a Holden Caulfield, Schiele displayed himself in exaggerated, sometimes abnormal postures, suggesting a man alienated from himself and from the world.

Painting some hundred self-portraits, Schiele engaged in a literal and manic expression of personal identity. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vienna cafés and salons overflowed with philosophers, writers and artists. More celebrated than Vienna's artists, though, were its scientists and psychoanalysts, an intimate group who learned from each other's disciplines and cross-pollinated one another's ideas. Schiele's preoccupation paralleled the primary concern of the Viennese psychoanalytic movement. Like Freud, he advocated stripping away ego, pretense and delusion in search of a truer self. What lies behind and within human beings, he realized, is more important than the well-constructed façade.

Egon was born in 1890 in Tulln, a small town on the Danube in lower Austria. He was the third child of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 97-108
Launched on MUSE
2006-09-11
Open Access
No
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