The Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris is currently holding an exhibition that is not only a delight to watch but also a distressing discovery.
Almost entirely forgotten today, Egon Schiele was born in 1890 in the Austrian town of Tulln. His creations represent a young man’s intense agony with the images of life as he perceives it; and one is impressed by his extremely clear and confident line work. No wonder a large number of his paintings and drawings are devoted to self-portraiture.
The legendary Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was the first to recognise Schiele’s talent and he encouraged, as well as protected, the young man so that he could continue with his inspirations.
A Paris museum pays homage to Austrian prodigy and Gustav Klimt’s mentee, Egon Schiele
Already adept in paper drawings at a very early age, Schiele’s genius was instantly noticed by Klimt, who bought the sketches Schiele had done while he was still in his teens. Klimt encouraged the young man, taught him a number of techniques and introduced him to art dealers and gallery owners.
In 1908, only at the age of 18, Schiele would not only form and lead a youthful and rebellious art movement called The New Group, but would also hold his own exhibition in the town of Klosterneuburg. By this time, his creations had started being relieved of the obsession with his own face and body, and had included a great number of landscapes as well as watercolours.
Impatient and curious, Schiele soon got fed up with city life and moved, with his model, to the small town of Neulenbach, not far from Vienna, yet calmer and more secluded. Here his new artistic engagements would lead him, at unrelenting speed, to such unusual themes as death and rebirth.
Given the day’s ethical standards, the rebellious artist also spent some time in prison for creating pornographic works. While in the cell, he never stopped working on a large number of paper sketches, all conserved today in the Egon Schiele Museum in Tulln.
By the time he was only 23, the artist had become a well-recognised figure and his first solo exhibition took place in Munich. Soon this show was followed by another one in Paris, then practically in all the major European cities. His works sold well and he had all the possibilities of becoming a prominent and well-off artistic personality of his times. Then, suddenly, he died in 1918. He was only 28.
Once questioned as to what was the initiative that led him to art, Schiele answered: “I want to frighten everyone. Long after I am gone, my paintings will always scare people to death.”
The Leopold Museum of Vienna possesses Schiele’s most important and complete collection of more than 200 creations. They are bought enthusiastically even today and, as recently as in 2011, his ‘Houses With Colourful Laundry’ was sold for more than four million US dollars.
In 2013, ‘Reclining Woman’, a watercolor created by Schiele only two years before his death, was acquired by an unknown European buyer for two million Euros.
But you don’t really need all those millions to discover this largely neglected genius that was Egon Schiele. All you have to do is to walk into the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Bois de Boulogne, only a few minutes’ walk away from Paris!
“Egon Schiele, A Neglected Genius” is being displayed at the Foundation Louis Vuitton Museum from October 3, 2018 to January 14, 2019
The writer is an art critic based in Paris. ZafMasud@gmail.com
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 9th, 2018