Saturday, January 15, 2011


In 1914 Egon finally begins to grow up.  He seems to finally understand that he must take more responsibility to earn a living from his art, if he is to continue being an artist.  He begins working for others, sometimes doing commissions and also working as a private art tutor.  With backing from a patron, he learned drypoint (which he considered the only artistic etching technique), but made only 6 prints before giving it up because he found it too time-consuming and labor intensive.  He also got a show in a local gallery at the end of 1914.  These new endeavors tell us that, perhaps, he was becoming more acceptable to others who could help him with his career.

During this year, Egon's drawing and painting changed.  The waif-like nudes of his earlier works were now full grown women with curves and softness.  Wally was used a a model less and less (or maybe she was just unrecognizable in these works).  Egon's palette also changed to ochre or brown underpaintings in gouache accented in reds, greens and blues.  Even as his drawings of women became more rounded and womanly, Egon's attitude toward them lost some emotional connection.  Often you see the focus on the body, almost impersonally, while their faces make them look like white-eyed dolls thrown down on the paper without feeling.  

Egon's time with Wally was coming to an end as he began, in earnest, to look for a wife.  Seeing the sisters, Adele and Edith Harms, who lived across the street from his studio, he often went out with both of them and Wally was brought along as a chaperone.  How cruel it seems to ask that of Wally, but perhaps it was just the way things had to be if Egon was ever to join society.

Egon eventually picked Edith, the younger Harms sister, in 1915.  They married in June and 3 days later he reported for military service in Prague.  Not much of a honeymoon, but Egon often went home to Edith every night when he was close enough to do so.

Edith insisted that Egon stop seeing or using Wally as a model.  Egon did not want to give Wally up (or did not want to be told to give her up by his wife), and in one of the strangest bits of their story, the newly married Egon arranged to meet Wally in a cafe where he presented her with a "legal" document stating that they would be obligated to share an annual vacation!!  Wally quickly rejected his offer and the couple never saw each other agin.  Wally, who had been so much a part of Egon's life, volunteered as a Red Cross nurse and died of scarlet fever in Dalmatia in December 1917.

Egon began drawing and painting couples (man and woman/woman and woman/woman and child).  Relationships between men and women must have been very much on his mind and he couldn't have helped but compare the relationship he had with Wally (where she was totally subservient to him as model and partner) to that with his new and immature wife.  Any of his ambivalent feelings about relationships may have come out in the work he did of couples - often painting just one person as fully alive and human while painting the second as a doll-like creature, eyeless and puppet-like. 

Historically, a man ruled his household and his wife, but Edith seems to have had a mind of her own, often demanding from Egon what Wally would never had dared to ask for.  Egon, having lived with only Wally for years, was surprised at the noncomplacency of his new wife.  Edith made it clear to Egon that, if things did not suit her, she could easily return to Vienna and end the marriage.  In spite of frequent arguments, Edith followed Egon from one assignment to another while he was in the military.  And, according to both of their diaries at this time, they often spent their time together making love. 

Edith demanded that Egon have no other nude models for his work than herself, but requested that in any nudes, her face never be shown. 

So...Wally is gone.  Edith is standing her ground and making her own mark on the marriage.  Egon is moved from place to place (wherever the military sends him), but can be close enough to Edith to go home to her each night (while his superiors continue to look the other way).  

During 1916, Egon's military rating (unfit for battle and only assigned office duty) kept him close to Edith.  He was angered when he was assigned anything other than office work, including digging trenches and escourting prisoners, but used those prisoners as models that year.  Those drawings and paintings show more emotional connection than previous work, although 1916 was his least productive year.  He painted mostly the day-to-day things and people around him, using the Russian prisoners as models and often making quick drawings of his superiors as a way to gain favor with them. 

All-in-all, Egon's military duty was not a negative experience for him or for his career, although it did slow down his progress for a while.


Irina said...

Rhonda, thank you very much.

RH Carpenter said...

You're welcome, Irina. I hope you're enjoying learning about this artist - more to come as we get closer to the end...

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Hi Rhonda, Your series on Schiele is interesting and enlightening. I think it's fascinating how Egon Schiele went his own way artistically. I also think its fun that you mix your discussion of Schiele with your own works in progress. I'm enjoying watching your still life develop. Thanks!

RH Carpenter said...

Peggy, he definitely had his own ideas and didn't like having gallery owners take big percentaged to show his work - he thought they should pay him! ha ha Thanks for your comments on the still life - it's coming along.