Egon Schiele

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Egon Schiele
Black chalk and watercolor on brown paper.
17 1/4 x 12 inches (43.8 x 30.4 cm)
Bequest of Fred Ebb.

Initialed at lower left in black chalk, "S"; initialed and dated on right side in graphite pencil, "S.1910"; verso: Estate stamp and collector's stamp at bottom right, "Sammlung Viktor Fogarassy".

Estate of the artist; Gutekunst & Klipstein, Bern (by 1956); Viktor Fogarassy (1911-1989); Rudolf Leopold (b. 1925); Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., London (by 1964); Lester Avnet (1912-1970); Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, New York; from which acquired by Fred Ebb, New York, ca. 1966.

Schiele was a prolific draftsman who at times created an average of a drawing a day. When he died at the age of twenty-eight during the 1918 influenza pandemic, he left behind about three thousand watercolors and drawings. Gustav Klimt was an important influence on Schiele, helping him to move away from the conventionality of his academic training. In Schiele's early drawings, forms are defined by simple contour lines, with no shading and little articulation of volume. The year 1910 marked a breakthrough in Schiele's development. He abandoned Klimt's highly decorative style in favor of a more direct form of expression. Obsessed with his own image and driven by the desire to probe his most intimate psychological states through his drawings, Schiele produced an unusual number of self-portraits. This sheet is striking for its reduction of the figure to a disembodied head, floating on a blank sheet of paper. The device, which Schiele repeated in other self-portraits, gives the facial feaures an unusual expressivity. The heavy-lidded eyes and tightly closed lips, surrounded and highlighted by white gouache, project a feeling of dejection, while the disheveled mass of black hair and the singular treatment of the thick eyebrows with vertical strokes impart a startled expression. But it is the void around the head that most effectively conveys the artist's self-absorption and isolation. Cut off from the rest of the body, this head recalls the severed heads of mythology and history (Medusa, Goliath, Saint John the Baptist), to which painters of the past often gave their own features.

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