Friday, 05 December 2014


There is a mesmerising sensual value to these nudes that lingers forever in the memory

Written by Robin Dutt
Robin-Dutt-176Born in 1890, Egon Schiele arrived at the age of 16 to study at Vienna’s celebrated Academy of Fine Arts. Even from this supposedly tender age, he was a live wire, a loose cannon, a disruptive sprite and a mischievous spirit. Once seen, his visceral drawings and paintings cannot be so easily removed from the memory – full to the brim as they are with wild eroticism and at the time, rarely seen slices of pure shock.

The drawings especially are spare and immediate – nudes in the main with a certain photographic immediacy, which might indeed parallel the actual experimentation with photography itself. Sensual? Sexual? A cunning combination of the two? Conceived in strident black on cream, often accented by sharp stabs of blood red, Schiele’s modus operandi was certainly not to spare any blushes.

The models often look defiantly out at the viewer and it is a given that even today they retain their shock value – something depraved, magnetic and hugely voyeuristic. His models seem twisted and turned to suit that particular discomfort of a pose position. His own naked self-portrait (with hands raised) is less about the immediacy of sexual expression and more about discomfort and displacement. Here is a naked man, yes with bits on show, but it is the butcher-blood hands raised in ironic greeting or equally ironic benediction that are most memorable.

Schiele painted his younger sister, Gertrude, and it was rumoured that he had had an incestuous relationship with her. Indeed, he was convicted and jailed shortly afterwards for public indecency. Perhaps a comparison with Edvard Munch might help to explain the zeitgeist of this time of incredible change, pre-Freud. Munch’s The Scream and so many other images examining sickness, death, jealousy, desire, seem to echo the essential esprit of this most surely tortured soul.

Every image is cold – despite the carmine red over- and undertones – the flesh of his models eerily pale, almost death-like, which juxtaposes with their frequently lively eyes, some seeming to offer a come-hither sentiment. Whatever items of clothing he allows some nudes, a pair of stockings here, a carelessly thrown jagged shawl there, they only accentuate the immediacy and triumph of the exposed skin and sagging, hanging breasts, rough and purposefully carelessly drawn. Pure genius.

Until 18 January 2015 at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2: 020-7848 2526,

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