Personal Favorite: Egon Schiele, Exhibition London

I have always been a great fan of non-realistic portraits. I enjoy viewing non-realistic portraits because I personally believe that in that way, the artist lets his creativity shine, and in a way, the painting he creates expresses his thoughts and ideas about the person illustrated. Thus the artist does not depict a person realistically, but he paints his feelings, thoughts and beliefs.

I was very excited when I read that works of Egon Schiele, one of my favorite artists that focused more on portrait paintings, were exhibited in Courtauld Gallery in London. Born in Vienna, Egon Schiele was a leading avant-garde artist in the early 1900s, the years around the First World War. During his short but very productive life, Egon Schiele managed to create a great collection of portraits (including self portraits) that were consider to be provocative, controversial but most importantly, some of the most radical depictions of the human figure in the 20th century.

This is the first time that original works of Egon Schiele were exhibited as a single collection in the United Kingdom and I felt very special to be a part of that. The exhibition was small, and included a small collection of his drawings and watercolour works. I wish I could see some of his oil paintings that illustrate his unique technique and skill, but I was surprised by how much detail he successfully created using humble materials such as pencil, chalk and watercolours.

The exhibition was divided in two small rooms. The first room included his famous self-portraits where the second room was focusing more on his collection of female figures, his ‘nudes’.

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What I find extraordinary about Schiele is the way he planned, understood and then created his self-portraits. The artist used a number of different mirrors and techniques in order to observe the increasingly extreme poses he adopted. In a way, todays ‘selfies’ could be considered to be a modernised version of Schiele’s technique of looking at his bod and understanding his own anatomical structure. He was fascinated by the human figure and the different forms he could create with his own body as well as the angles and shapes that his figure could take. He sacrificed anatomical accuracy for the sake of his paintings; he distorted body figures by elongating the back of a figure, cropping the figures legs or arms, making their heads smaller or larger, based on the feeling he wanted to portray. In a way, he would treat the human figure as a blank canvas; he would choose to shape it based on the message he wanted to convey, his ideas and feelings and not on the traditional anatomical structure of the human form.
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The second room includes a small collection of his famous nudes. The portraits created are again non-realistic and the figures are distorted in the same way as his self-portraits. . The theme of his paintings though is not the distortion of the human figure, but the female sexuality and how that can be illustrated through a painting. For his portraits, Egon Schiele painted some of his family members; his wife but he also used random women as well as a lot of prostitutes. The images  exhibited were very bold and sexual. In his nude paintings, he draws in detail some of his models private body parts making his works raw, fleshy and unflinching. Some characterise his work as too disturbing and sometimes grotesque. Too erotic, too radical, too offensive, too controversial, but as the artist thought, sex is beautiful and the nude body is poetic.

Walking inside the exhibition space, I could not help but notice the way people moved inside the space, and viewed the art works presented. The nude paintings were the ones that people seemed to enjoy the most, and spent more time in front of. More specifically, people seemed to pay more attention to the most sexual and erotic paintings, the ones that showed the female genitals in detail. I wondered why was that? I tried to monitor their moves and understand them. I saw young girls moving close to the paintings, talking quietly and laughing with each other. I saw older people turning their heads from one side to the other, looking at each other and communicating through their eyes. Were they disturbed by the raw imagery, or were they simply intrigued? I could never know, but what is certain is that the raw nudity and sexuality is something that is always going to be disturbing, controversial and create conversations.
schiele_loincloth     egon-schiele-couple-embracing

I personally was impressed by Schiele’s astonishing technique and use of materials. The artist managed to use humble materials such as pencil, charcoal and watercolours and create such bold lines and figures. His use of colours gives his figures a fuller shape, balances his shading and makes the bodies come alive. I also enjoyed the fact that Schiele has no context in his drawings. He simply places his bodies inside his frame, with no justification for being there. He does not place the figures proportionately inside the frame, in most cases the figures ‘don’t fit’ inside the frame and different body parts (head, legs, arms) seem to be left out of the picture.

Going against the norm, distorting his figures, using grotesque bodies, provocative and sexual imagery are only a few things that Egon Schiele managed to do through his work. This unique way of perceiving and creating art is what draws me to Schiele’s work and what in my opinion makes him one of the most important and unique artists that ever existed.

Here is some information for the Exhibition:
Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House
Strand, London, WC2R 0RN
The exhibition will be available until the 18th of January, 2015
Daily 10am – 6mp (Last admission 5.30pm)
Tickets from £5 – £8.50 (Free for Friends)

I would love to read your comments below!
Thank you for reading,




  1. “Schiele has no context in his drawings. He simply places his bodies inside his frame, with no justification for being there. He does not place the figures proportionately inside the frame, in most cases the figures ‘don’t fit’ inside the frame and different body parts (head, legs, arms) seem to be left out of the picture.” And what a brilliant ‘take’ on this subject! Human nudity is humanness at the raw, atomic level. It is always a bit jarring when it is being observed–in contrast to the comfort of it when the human who owns it is in privacy. This will always be one of the greatest ‘subjects’ in all of art. Thank you for this well-written and thought-out post!

  2. A really interesting post and fascinating to read about your feeling watching others looking at the works. I think people do find Schiele’s work disturbing, but when they have the opportunity to see it close to and experience its power, then discomfiture probably changes to fascination. I suspect too that with people now more accustomed to such images (with the paintings of Bacon etc) Schiele’s have perhaps lost some of the jaw-dropping impact they originally had.

  3. Reblogged this on Adrian Krucker and commented:
    Elli, a Greek student in Great Britain, has created a nice blog called ‘Art Attack’. In contrary to my blog, those of you into Art will find some wonderuf articles like this one about the Egon Schiele Exhibition in London.

  4. Reblogged this on anntogether and commented:
    Always encourage passion in its artistic form.
    Dear Friends, I gave my email word to reblog a lovely young woman’s post. Elli is pursuing cultural studies at London College of Communication. Her art blog began as a university project, but her artistic sensibilities and passion continue to stoke her amazing art commentary. This particular post highlights the avant-garde artist, Egon Schiele. Those unfamiliar with the avant-garde movement should be aware that this particular group of artists’ drive arose from a desire to break from the norm of the commonplace form. Schiele was a master of placing viewers in uncomfortable positions to elicit cerebral reactions. His images are provocative – his technique and application – fascinating and inspiring. So there is an image or two in this set – for those with PG-13 mindset – that will force you into a place where you either stare or turn away (after staring). As I’ve mentioned or as the brilliant Elli has elegantly written, Schiele’s images are, “…provocative and controversial…” Without further ado…

    1. I found you through AnnMarie’s blog, and appreciate the opportunity to learn something new. I was not familiar with Schiele’s work, and while it is not my taste, I find it intriguing. Thank you for a new insight. – Fawn

  5. Thank you for explaining Schiele to me so well. I quite agree about the advantages of non-realistic portraiture. I feel myself heading in that direction with my paintings now. It’s quite a fine skill to be able to paint portraits in a realistic style, but this striving for perfection can bring its own restrictions upon freedom. With non-realistic painting you have the scope to play and experiment and bring yourself, along with the sitter into the work. It might sound funny, but the sculptures I have been working on lately, feel to me like self-portraits, although they are rarely figurative, but they are expressing what’s inside me, in a very natural flow. That might be taking what Schiele was doing to an extreme. They really are great and powerful images that you have posted here. Fantastic.

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