A Closer Look at Egon Schiele


Egon Schiele was a leading figure in Austrian Expressionism. He is most prominently known for his paintings and drawings of grotesque nude figures. However, Schiele also worked as a designer, creating many posters during his career. Elongated and distorted figures were ever-present throughout the various mediums he worked in. Egon Schiele worked alongside Oskar Kokoschka, who was another important artist in the Expressionist movement. The two were protégés of Gustav Klimt and studied at Kunstgewerbeschule.


Egon Schiele, Musik Festwoche, 1912, Lithograph Poster

Both Schiele and Kokoschka use self-portraits religiously throughout their works. Art Nouveau elements are seen in their work through the usage of lengthened bodies and hand lettering. However, the incorporation of self-portraiture made the art more personal by delving into the artist’s sense of inner awareness. The quality of representing an existing person rather than a symbolic figure caused the overall mood to be inherently more expressive. The quote from Peter Selz does a great job explaining this correlation when saying “…Frequently, where symbolism merely suggests and understates, Expressionism exaggerates and overstates” (qtd. in Eskilson 92).

Egon Schiele was no stranger to tragedy. His life was short and jam-packed with a great deal of unfortunate circumstances. Schiele was forced to deal with calamity at a young age. His father died from a syphilis infection when Schiele was fourteen. In his later years (later being the young age of 28), Schiele’s pregnant wife died of Spanish influenza and he died of the same disease just three days later.

At the age of 17, Schiele was painting traditional landscapes and scenes that were deeply rooted in modes of academia. Here is an example of a work by young Egon:


Egon Schiele, Village with Mountains, 1907, Oil on Paper

As you can see, these images are jarringly different from the works he is best known for. Harsh images addressing sexual themes as well as death were commonly depicted in Schiele’s later work. They were seen as controversial and rejected by many. His shift in style further supports his role as a major artist contributing to the Art Nouveau movement. Artists were striving for new ways to apply materials.


Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Raised Arms, 1914



Boyd, William. “Egon Schiele: A Graphic Virtuoso Rescued from the Wilderness.” The Guardian. N.p., 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Eskilson, Stephen J. Graphic Design A New History. 2nd ed. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2007. Print.

“Egon Schiele Biography.” Egon Schiele: The Complete Works. N.p., 2002. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.

Fischer, Wolfgang G. Egon Schiele. Trans. Michael Hulse. N.p.: Benedikt Taschen, 1995. Print.

“German Expressionism: Works from the Collection.” MoMA: The Collection. Museum of Modern Art, n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.



Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_-_self-portrait_with_physalis_-_google_art_projectSchiele, Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, 1912

Although the life of Egon Schiele was short lived, the number of works he created was quite prolific. Born in 1890 Austria, Schiele and his two sisters were raised by his father. His sister, Gertie, often modeled in the artist’s works. In school, Egon was encouraged to pursue formal training in the arts. After the death of his father in 1906, Schiele enrolled in the Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, where Schiele’s future mentor, Gustav Klimt, also studied.

A year after enrolling in the school, Egon sought out Klimt as a confidant who in turn introduced Klimt to patrons as well as the work of other artists. Klimt also introduced Schiele to the Wierner Werkstätte, a division of the Vienna Secession that focused on unifying the arts and crafts. Two years later, Schiele was one of many students to leave the Academy. After leaving, Schiele explored new methods of painting and began to veer from his mentor’s artistic influence.

Egon, along with the rest of the artists that chose to leave the academy, began frequently exhibiting their works. As these exhibitions progressed, Schiele’s work began to mature. Subjects that he often explored were sexuality and self-portraits. Many critics considered the young artist’s work to be crude and vulgar. During this time, Schiele often used nude adolescents as models. This practice eventually led to his 24-day imprisonment in 1912 after being accused of raping an underage girl, his girlfriend at the time. Schiele ceased to using children as models but this did not put a damper on his sexually explicit artwork.

Egon Schiele – Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands, 1910/ Nude Self-Portrait in Grey with Open Mouth, 1910

In addition to its graphic nature, Schiele’s work often portrayed distorted contours and angular human figures. His self-portraits, which inwardly explored the artist’s own turmoil, were no exception. Egon is nude in many of his self-portraits and he poses himself in vulnerable positions. The self-reflective aspect of Schiele’s portraits is considered to be a precursor to Expressionism, a movement that explores emotional experiences rather than an external environment. Schiele’s work garnered more attention when he was invited to participate in the Vienna Secession’s Forty-Ninth Annual Exhibit in March of 1918. Unfortunately, his career ended abruptly in October of that year, when he died due to the Spanish Influenza. Schiele was only 28 at the time of his passing yet the art he created throughout his career proved him to be one of the most productive and innovative artists of his time.