The Courtauld Gallery opens its doors to what is perhaps the most important exhibition of the year: ‘Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude’.
Today, the Courtauld Gallery opens its doors to one of the most important exhibitions of the year, ‘Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude’, a study on his drawings of male and female nudes that radicalised early 20th Century Art.
The collection brings together an exceptional body of works that are absolutely unrelenting in their technique and play on form. As the first exhibition on Egon Schiele in the last 25 years, ‘The Radical Nude’ proves itself to be a real breakthrough as the artist’s anguished, incessant and decisive lines reveal the terrible greatness in human bodies.
Fascinated by the human body in its simplest form, Schiele puts at the vanguard of his work his sister, his lovers, male friends, prostitutes, pregnant women, his later wife and himself. Through deliberate, almost awkward postures, he turns pink-fleshed bodies into haunting, emaciated figures that become even more intense and important, especially when set against the backdrop of the conservative, bourgeois atmosphere of Vienna in the early 20th Century.
There is a delight to Schiele’s unrestrained boldness – or perhaps curiosity, in tying in life and decay in such a vivid, complex way. Through his stark and raw drawings, he offers an electrifying and penetrative gaze that matters even in our contemporary times.
Egon Schiele, who trained in Vienna under Gustav Klimt in the early 1900s, quickly became known for his fascination with life, death, desire and sex –most of his works were considered pornography and he was imprisoned for two months in 1912 for contravening public decency. An unconventional artist, he subverted old traditions –his 1910 breakthrough was key in the radicalisation of the life-drawing room set-up and models’ poses, and his Gertrude studies (his sister) were crucial in his overturn of the passive, reclining nudes that adorned all the other walls of museums at the time.
Also present in the Courtauld’s collection are Schiele’s drawings of his ‘models from the street’, directly influenced by his vision that Vienna was a city with hypocrisy at heart, through which he shamelessly pulled out the most taboo issues of the time –poverty, vice, prostitution, at times rendering its subjects into creatures of desire, and at other times into tormented figures.
The intelligence of the Courtauld exhibition lies in its chosen chronology: from the nude self-portraits to his meticulous study of pregnant women and their newborns to his final years before his untimely death in 1918 from Spanish Influenza, aged just 28. It is fascinating to see Schiele’s evolution in technique and approach, and there is an honesty, an immediacy in his drawings that one cannot find in his paintings.
‘The Radical Nude’ is a unique collection that puts forward the palpable anguish, strength, provocation and desire behind Egon Schiele’s work. His unflinching portrayal of the human body is a must-see and places this exhibition at the forefront of London’s artistic cultural scene.
‘Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude’ is on at the Courtauld Gallery from the 23rd October to the 18thJanuary 2014.