EGON SCHIELE: IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT LINE

GALERIE ST. ETIENNE
New York, NY, USA
Until 2 March 2019

Tracing the arc of his artistic development, Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line is on view at Galerie St. Etienne through March 2, 2019. Galerie St. Etienne has presented more than 15 Egon Schiele exhibitions since 1941, when the gallery introduced the work of the artist to the U.S. The exhibition leverages the gallery’s access to rare and newly authenticated work with 46 watercolors and drawings curated from numerous private collections, many of which have not been exhibited publically in more than 20 years.

Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line marks the 100th anniversary of Schiele’s death in 1918 and links together Schiele’s drawings to tell the story of the artist’s brief life, which ended when he died of the Spanish flu at age 28. One of the greatest draughtsmen of all times, Schiele drew almost daily, using the medium to record his fluctuating responses to the basic problems of human existence: sexual desire, personal identity, and the tenuousness of life. His works—and the works in the exhibition—thus function as a visual diary, tracing the artist’s emotional and creative development from adolescence to adulthood.

The exhibition coincides with the November publication of Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online, the first digital catalogue raisonné for the artist from Kallir Research Institute, a non-profit organization founded by Jane Kallir, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne. Much of what is known today about the artist is due to research by Jane Kallir, who authored the catalogue raisonné, and her grandfather Otto Kallir, the gallery’s founder. Jane Kallir, who has written nine books on Egon Schiele and contributed to numerous international exhibition catalogues, is recognized as the leading scholar on the artist.

The exhibition begins with a 1906 self-portrait done the year Schiele gained admittance to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Fine Art, showing the 16-year-old proudly wearing the traditional garb of an artist. By 1910, Schiele had dropped out of the Academy, frustrated with its conservative rules. During this breakthrough year, he made his first tentative explorations of female sexuality. At the start of the year, his most reliable female model was his sister Gerti, a totally unthreatening subject who would go on to model professionally. She can be seen in his Portrait of a Woman in an Orange Hat, 1910.

In early 20th-century Austria, young men were encouraged to “sow their wild oats” with prostitutes before settling down at around the age of 25. However, when Schiele left the urban environment of Vienna for the rural town of Neulengbach, his open cohabitation with his model, Wally Neuzil, raised eyebrows. In April 1912, a teenage runaway asked the couple to take her to her grandmother in Vienna. Although they brought the girl back a day later, her father had already filed charges of kidnapping and statutory rape. The charges were dropped once an investigation was conducted. But a new charge stuck: the artist was sentenced to 24 days in jail for “pubic immorality,” because minors had visited his studio and been exposed to erotic works of art. Included in the exhibition is a 1912 self-portrait, painted shortly after Schiele was released from prison that reflects his traumatized emotional state.

True to contemporary custom, Schiele married at the age of 25, choosing not Wally but a proper bourgeois young lady, Edith Harms. Whereas Wally had been a full partner in Schiele’s artistic mission, Edith found it hard to adjust to her husband’s bohemian ways. Less out of prudery than embarrassment, she was reluctant to pose naked. She feared, understandably, being recognized by the couple’s family, friends, and acquaintances. A 1915 portrait, Woman Holding Flower (Edith Schiele), evokes the subject’s wistful sadness.

Given his wife’s reluctance to pose, most of Schiele’s later nudes depict professional models. In 1917-18, the artist reverted to an almost classical realism. In tandem with a more three-dimensional coloring style, his lines became smoother and rounder. This increased naturalism served to accentuate the subjects’ autonomy. Schiele’s nudes and semi-nudes are considered among the first modern women in art; the first to command their own sexuality.

In an essay written for the exhibition, Jane Kallir writes, “Schiele’s premature death leaves hanging the tantalizing question: what would have happened next? His oeuvre, comprising roughly 3,000 works on paper and over 300 paintings, may be interpreted as a visual coming-of-age story. Like many adolescents, the artist sought answers to the most basic mysteries of human existence: what does it mean to live, to love, to suffer and to die? Whether or not he ever found the answers, it is the process of asking, the search itself, that gives meaning and poignancy to his art.”

About Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online
The first phase of Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online, the first digital catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, was published in November 2018 at www.egonschieleonline.org. Notable for its unprecedented scope, the publication covers the artist’s oeuvre in its entirety: over 400 paintings; close to 3,000 watercolors and drawings; 21 sketchbooks; 17 graphics; and 4 sculptures. Egon Schiele Online, which will be published in in two phases, will eventually include more than 200 works authenticated since the publication of Jane Kallir’s previous Schiele catalogue raisonné in 1998. This is the first publication from the Kallir Research Institute, a non-profit organization founded last year by Jane Kallir, co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne.

About Jane Kallir
Jane Kallir is the author of the new catalogue raisonné Egon Schiele: The Complete Works Online as well as Egon Schiele: The Complete Works (1990; revised edition, 1998). Her grandfather Otto Kallir authored the first catalogue raisonné of Egon Schiele’s oil paintings in 1930. Jane Kallir has written nine books and more than 20 articles on Schiele. Most recently, she wrote catalogue essays and provided lectures for three major exhibitions: Egon Schiele at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (October 3, 2018, through January 14, 2019); Egon Schiele: Pathways to a Collection at the Lower Belvedere, Vienna (October 19, 2018, through February 17, 2019); and Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (November 4, 2018, through February 3, 2019). Two new documentaries about Egon Schiele have recently been released that feature interviews with Jane Kallir: Egon Schiele: Dangerous Desires from the BBC and Klimt & Schiele: Eros and Psyche from 3D Produzioni.

About Galerie St. Etienne
Galerie St. Etienne, located at 24 West 57th Street in New York City, is the oldest gallery in the United States specializing in Expressionism and Self-Taught artists. It was established in 1939 by Otto Kallir, previously founder of the Neue Galerie in Vienna, a principal exponent of German and Austrian modernism. Galerie St. Etienne provided America with a first look at the art of Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin, Paula Modersohn-Becker, and Egon Schiele. Today, its venerable standing continues under the direction of Jane Kallir, Otto’s granddaughter, and Hildegard Bachert, whose scholarship and expertise extend around the world. The gallery has curated exhibitions for the Museo del Vittoriano in Rome, the Belvedere in Vienna, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and many other museums in Europe, the U.S. and Asia. Jane Kallir is the author of over 20 art books. Galerie St. Etienne participates in Art Basel.

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Image Caption:
Self-Portrait with Brown Background, 1912
Gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper. Signed and dated, lower left.
12 3/8″ x 10″ (31.4 x 25.4 cm)