Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele was a major figurative painter of the early 20th century, best known for his gaunt self-portraits, remarkable nudes and brooding landscapes.
Egon Schiele (Leo Adolf Schiele) was born June 12, 1890 in Tulln on the Danube, the son of Adolf, station master at the Austrian State Railways. He became a ward to his uncle (on his mother’s side) when his father died of syphilis. It did not take long before his uncle noticed his nephew’s talent and passion for art.
Influenced by the Symbolist movement, Egon studied at the Vienna Academy from 1906 to 1909. During this time, he was befriended by popular artist Gustav Klimt who often arranged models for him and helped him find potential patrons. He also introduced the artist to the Wiener Werkstätte, a workshop connected with the Vienna Secession, a movement known today as Art Nouveau. In 1908, Egon had his first exhibition in Klosterneuburg. Klimt invited him to exhibit some of his work at the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau. Egon began to explore the human form, focusing mainly on human sexuality. At the time, many found the explicitness of his art disturbing. Upon completing his third year, Egon left the Academy and founded the Neukunstgruppe ("New Art Group"), together with other dissatisfied students.
In 1911, Egon Schiele met and used seventeen-year-old Valerie (Wally) Neuzil as a model for some of his best paintings. They became involved almost immediately and attempted to escape to the small town of Krumau in southern Bohemia where the artist could paint without controversy. Before long, the couple was driven out of town by those who, like many others, strongly disapproved of the artist’s art and lifestyle.
A move to Neulengbach was disastrous for Schiele. His studio became a hang out for Neulengbach's delinquent youth. His controversial lifestyle came to an abrupt halt when he was arrested in April 1912 for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. The police seized more than a hundred drawings judged as pornographic. The charges of seduction and abduction were eventually dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. During his twenty-four day imprisonment, he painted a number of watercolors and made sketches depicting his experience in jail.
In 1913, Egon Schiele had his first solo show at the Gallery Hans Goltz. Things took a turn for the better when the artist fell in love with Edit Harms in 1915. Against her family's wishes, he and Edith were engaged in April and married in June of the same year. He was drafted into the Austrian army, but continued to paint prolifically during his military service. After three years of army duty, he enjoyed a solo show at the Vienna Secession of 1918, where fifty of his works were displayed. That same year the artist participated in numerous group exhibitions in Prague, Budapest, Cologne and Munich.
In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe. Edith, who was six months pregnant, contracted the influenza virus that year and died on October 28. Egon died three days later at twenty-eight years old. During the three day span between their deaths, a distraught Egon Schiele sketched his last works, images of Edith.