Saturday, January 22, 2011

SAYING GOODBYE TO EGON: AUTUMN 1918

I hope you've enjoyed the summary of the book, Egon Schiele Drawings and Watercolors by Jane Kallir, ed. Ivan Vartanian.  It's well worth the price ($31 at borders.com) if you enjoy figure drawing and Egon's work, in particular.


Beginning in 1917, Egon finds success finally arriving.  His work is seen and purchased, and he even has waiting lists for commissions by early 1918.  However, his marriage is not seeing as much success.  Edith feels "psychologically alone", shut out from her husband's work.  We could say that Egon stopped using her as a model because, in April 1918, she announced she was pregnant.  It might be unseemly.  But Egon stopped using her long before that, and we find her image less and less in any of his works after 1917.  

In his art, Egon shows no reaction to his impending paternity in 1918.  His work is focused on the same cycle of life and death which he explored in his earlier studies on paper and oil paintings. 





Some call the oil painting, Squatting Couple, his "masterpiece".  Edith renamed this painting The Family, perhaps trying to embue it with sentiment that was not there.  Some of Egon's biographers felt that this could be a personal painting of his pending fatherhood because he used himself as the male model.  But it is more likely (painted prior to Edith's pregnancy) a continuation of the same cycle of life and death Egon painted many times.  Although the child can represent future generations, there is a pessimism in the painting due to how little contact there is among the three figures.  In fact, it seems as if each one is unaware of the presence of the others.  No motherly love and embrace, no lovers' touch. 

In the autumn months in Vienna, living conditions deteriorated.  A desparate cold snap came on early, and Egon's studio was damp and in disrepair.  Because of black marketeers taking advantage of the post-war times, it was almost impossible to get enough coal, and the simplest foods were unavailable.  The Spanish flu arrived and reached epidemic proportions.  Egon had sent Edith to a sanitarium in Hungary in the summer for her protection, but in October 1918, she contracted the deadly flu, suffering for just over a week before sucumbing to the virus which claimed more people worldwide than World War I.



Egon sketched his wife's face for the last time on October 27, 1918.  The next morning, she was dead.

Is there a hint of longing or tenderness in the black crayon strokes?  One would like to think so, but Egon's note to his sister, Gerti, immediately after Edith's death seems in bold contrast with a man grieving the loss of a beloved wife and child.  It states simply, "Edith Schiele no more."  Direct.  Cold.  Unemotional. 

Upon receipt of the note, Egon's brother-in-law came to Vienna to find Egon in dire straits.  He arranged to have him moved to the apartment of Edith's family, where Edith's mother cared for him.  Egon's mother and his sister, Melanie, came for one final visit and, on October 31st, Egon Schiele died.

The author states, "There is a timelessness to Schiele's best work that speaks to the unchanging essence of humanity across time and space."

And with that, we say goodbye to Egon Schiele (June 1890-October 1918).  In his short lifetime, Egon left behind more than 2,000 drawings and watercolors and more than 300 oils.

5 comments:

Irina said...

Rhonda, thank you again so much. My final thoughts: 1) 2000 watercolors. I need to stop being lazy and paint, paint. 2) He was hardly easy person and husband. Deep thinking)))

hw (hallie) farber said...

It is a great book--I'll keep looking at it. Thanks.

RH Carpenter said...

You're very welcome, Irina. He was obsessed - but they also say he was so quick he could capture a person in such a short time - he even timed himself to get faster and faster while still being accurate. Now that would be a challenge!

Hallie, I think I may be onto another artist next - I'm enjoying artist bios that include their works (perhaps Alice Neel next?)

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

Hi Rhonda, I enjoyed reading your summary of Schiele. It's hard to imagine what his life was like. He certainly was prolific! And I certainly agree with the idea that his work has a timeless quality about it. Thanks!

RH Carpenter said...

Peggy, they do seem right for today as well as his time. I think the author had access to his diary and that of his wife when writing this as she quoted them a bit. And yet, you still never know - what I might write in a diary this week may not be at all what I'm thinking next week or next month :) It's good we have the work to help us travel through his life. And seeing his student work, I'm glad he dropped out and went his own way.