PARIS — Apparent at the Foundation Louis Vuitton’s exhibition of mostly delicately colored drawings by Egon Schiele is his virtuosity as a draftsman. Particularly in the execution of his expressive nudes, Schiele’s line is frequently full of an elegant erotic intelligence that conveys to some a sense of tortured subjectivity, but I don’t quite read them that way. What others see as existential angst in Schiele’s whiplash-fluid drawings, I see as the writhing, whimsical lines of sassy sexuality that stems from his Art Nouveau roots: a playful movement concerned with feminine forms and swirling, tendril-derived lines of frivolous and erogenous spirit.
For example, with “Female Nude with White Border” (1911) Schiele plays with open space by partially outlining the odalisque-like nude woman with jaggedly quivering white gouache to separate her body from her surroundings, thereby whiting out context — a trademark of modernity and what testified to the work’s inscription within a modern time and place. Yet in the sensitive intimacy of her curly-hair armpits and pubis region, there are traces of the writhing world of Art Nouveau, and little of the influence of Oskar Kokoschka’s expressionism that marks many of Schiele’s more mawkish paintings in this show of roughly 120 works (mostly drawings).
In another work from 1911, “Reclining Nude Girl in Striped Smock,” a weepy sexuality is delicately suggested by a flushed pink ear and a soft watery eye topping-off the beautifully colored-in contour lines that adhere to the kind of voluptuous natural forms popular with Art Nouveau: the flowing curvature of seaweed and lilies. Schiele’s shivering sinuous style here quivers like a slapped slimy eel, endowing the somewhat-emaciated girl with slightly sad, but still lascivious, overtones.
By using equally long, thin, wavy lines in “Seated Male Nude, Back View” (1910) and “Standing Man” (1913) (perhaps, the best drawing in the show with its magnificent messy maroon shirt that re-establishes the flatness of the picture plane), Schiele’s men are sensually elongated to the point of mystic suggestion. Their wavering stretched-out proportions put the figures into stringy oscillation reminiscent of the spiritual Mannerism of El Greco. With such virtuoso windblown lines, Schiele, who emerged at the end of the historical process of the development of Fin-de-Siècle dandyism, seems to caress the litheness of the men in a way that disposes me to feelings of watching opium smoke rise and curl, or writhing seaweed sway.
Four years later, he is still at it, as seen in “Standing Nude with a Patterned Robe” (1917) — a drawing that makes clear with his long squishy lines that Schiele, once famously the protégé of Gustav Klimt (following a short span of Art Nouveau-inspired works), ripped Klimt’s ornamental decoration away but left the tottering Art Nouveau lines alone. Thus, through his skill as an extraordinary draughtsman, Schiele was able to play with a tantalizing eroticism, making his nudes achingly stretch and shiver. The lanky lady depicted in “Standing Nude with a Patterned Robe” has a transparent left arm, an apparently shaved pubis, and two powerfully grotesque satyr-like legs: the combination of which creates a visual mythical delight that is almost involuntary.
It has generally been assumed that this stretched-shivering quality in Schiele’s work showed an artistic anguish that arose from his 1912 April arrest and 24 day imprisonment in Neulengbach following accusations of indecency for seducing a young girl below the age of consent — a false charge — and exhibiting erotic paintings in front of children, which was proven true. But as I have noted above, that line, that touch, is already fully evident in the 1910 “Seated Male Nude, Back View” and 1911 “Reclining Nude Girl in Striped Smock” drawings that both smack of Art Nouveau’s noodling nervousness.
But regardless of the carnal beginnings, that strained shivering quality came to foreshadow horrors of the coming World Wars and Schiele’s own fate. Such strained shivers were sadly actualized, one hundred years ago, in the autumn of 1918 when the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed more than 20 million lives in Europe, reached Vienna. The virus penetrated his pregnant wife, Edith, who succumbed to it, only days before Schiele. He was 28 years old.
Egon Schiele is on view at Foundation Louis Vuitton (8, avenue du Mahatma Gandhi, Bois de Boulogne) through January 14, 2019, curated by Suzanne Pagé and Dieter Buchhart.
New Directors/New Films Festival Takes an Experimental Turn
A host of documentaries exemplify ND/NF’s unconventional programming philosophy.
Memories So Fair and Bright
Kimetha Vanderveen’s paintings are about the interaction of materiality and light, the bond between the palpable and ephemeral world in which we live.
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Artists Contemplate Sovereignty in Santa Fe
The Santa Fe Art Institute’s 2024 International Thematic Residency focuses on what sovereignty means for artists from across the world.
How Did Early Modern European Craftspeople Pass On Their Knowledge?
A new book about object making critically examines a written history of working with materials.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
Dual Portrait of Old Master Rachel Ruysch Holds a Trove of Secrets
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has just acquired the rare painting, which depicts the Dutch artist at work surrounded by her signature flora.
Did Van Gogh’s Disdain for the Eiffel Tower Inspire “Starry Night”?
Art historian James Hall argues that van Gogh replaced the Eiffel Tower with a towering cypress tree and its inaugural light shows with the night sky.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
Greek Museum Welcomes Dogs For World Stray Animal Day
Furry friends and their pawrents can visit Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art for free this weekend.
Ai Weiwei Recreates Monet’s “Water Lilies” Using 650,000 LEGOS
It’s the artist’s largest LEGO artwork to date.
The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation Presents The Feminine in Abstract Painting
Curated by Jennifer Samet and Andrea Belag, this group exhibition in NYC explores the feminine through aesthetics, as opposed to identity or gender.
Did a Simpsons Episode Predict the Florida “David” Outrage?
The episode, which aired 30 years ago, made a dark prediction about conservative politics in 2023.
Coasting the Topography of South Asian Futurisms
As part of Hyperallergic’s Emily Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellowship for Curators, Sadaf Padder presents an exhibition to offer insight into her curatorial process.