Egon Schiele: Nudity, Sex, Pornography.

Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, sex tape induced popularity of Kim Kardashian, and escalating phenomenon of sexting manifest the pervasiveness of sexuality that, even when very explicit and aggressive, no longer causes bewilderment or abashed smiles. Egon Schiele’s art certainly contributed to this modern and widely common indecency. Nudity and distortion of the human body that were dominant themes in his artistic achievements provoked very polarized opinions and even led to the imprisonment of Schiele for publicly exhibiting “pornographic images”.

Art which only deals with the controversial and iconoclastic issues rarely becomes an important voice heard in society, often being seen as a desperate cry for attention. In the case of Egon Schiele, his interest in sexuality, suffering and death are as interesting for the public, as his individual, expressive style is akin to Japanese art. Born in 1890 in Tulln near Vienna, Schiele studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Quickly, however, his avant-garde look at art diverged so much from the classical teaching that he broke off his studies. That is when one of his teachers famously said “Do not tell anyone I taught you”. Nonetheless, it did not prevent his talent and originality in approach to the human body and sexuality to be recognized and praised on the European art scene.

Unfortunately, World War I abruptly slackened the artistic creation and more importantly, dramatically changed the political and social reality. Schiele had no opportunity to show how the armed conflict and the psychological horror associated with it influenced him as an artist. He died a few months after the establishment of peace, in October 1918, due to the pandemic of Spanish flu, three days after his pregnant wife Edith Harms.

Schiele’s short life and, therefore also artistic career, have caused problems for the judgment of his work. Particularly disturbing are the images of the artist’s sister, who repeatedly posed completely naked for him in bizarre, awkward poses emphasizing her sexuality. Moreover, Schiele frequently painted very young prostitutes, who were posing for an additional income and as Carol Ann Duffy wrote in her poem “Standing Female Nude” they could have said “Six hours like this for a few francs. / Belly nipple arse in the window light,/he drains the color from me.”

The uninhibited treatment of erotic themes by Egon Schiele is fascinating. At the beginning of the 20th century the sexual imagery, and in particular the theme of homosexuality, was still absolutely shocking. The name of the most recent exhibition “The Radical Nude” at The Courtauld Gallery referred to the sexual determination and fetishist obsessions present in his paintings (Schiele had a thing for stockings and vaginas of course). The combination of youthful innocence and daring exhibitionism, suggest the artist’s desire to shock his contemporaries, but his explicit portrayals are never just obliviously sexual. They reflect the reality that was too inappropriate to be openly acknowledged, as in the early 1900s beneath Vienna’s elegant and bourgeois world, the prostitution and perversion were thriving as never before.

However, it is the very limited use of colours that strike today’s viewers. Schiele played with them to particularly highlight the outlines of the silhouettes often emphasizing the aging of the body and thus, the finiteness of life. He also accentuated the elements of clothing or body parts to direct the viewer’s gaze to a specific part of the image. Painting ghostly figures with skeletal hands, Schiele perfectly led the transition to the radicalism of the new époque of expressionism.

Schiele’s “Two Girls Embracing” was even used as an inspiration for a painting that replaced stolen “Boy with Apple” in Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis (Adrien Brody) describes the painting with a rhetorical question „What’s the meaning of this shit?”. Today’s Schiele’s all-star status among collectors, critics and art lovers manifests the evolution of human approach to eroticism and proves that this shit is good.

Danni Christina Thurley
Danni Christina Thurley
Serena Rochelle Hancock
Serena Rochelle Hancock

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