To understand Schiele’s work is undoubtedly to enter into the profound change of thought that took place in Vienna in the transition from the end of the 19th century to the dawn of the 20th, and which generated a profound change of mentality in various disciplines of the arts and sciences.
Bourgeois culture revolved around the cultivation of the self, reaffirming its uniqueness and leading inevitably to reflection on psychological life, which brought about the link between devotion to art and concern for mental processes.
Sigmund Freud’s novel and popular theories about the unconscious emerged.
From the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras (500 BC): “Phenomena are a visible expression of that which is hidden.” This eventually became the core concept of Modern thought: To discover the truth one must look beneath the surface appearance of things.Kandel, Eric. 2012. The Age of Insight: The quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind and brain from Vienna 1900 to the present. New York: Random House
The painters of modernism shared with the intellectuals of their time a culture characterized by revolution against rationalism and the search for a new identity of the self, and like Freud, they undertook a journey inward through the ego. (Schorske, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Politics and Culture 1981).
About the exhibition, Albertina Modern emphasizes: “Modernism pulled back the curtain and looked behind the scenography of self-staging. The deeper, more intimate self and the discovery of the individual moved to the center of what self-portraits were.”“Schiele and His Legacy.” The Albertina Museum Vienna, https://www.albertina.at/en/albertina-modern/exhibitions/schiele-and-his-legacy/.
The artists put forward four main ideas to achieve the goal of looking beneath appearances.
- First, that portrait painting was a good way to delve into a person’s psychology.
- Second, that, in order to understand the mind of others, it was important to go into oneself first, as Freud did to develop his theory on the interpretation of dreams; thus the self-portrait became highly relevant for self-discovery.
- Third, that gestures – not only facial, but especially those of the hands – can communicate emotions.
- Fourth, that the strongest human impulses are invariably based on sexuality or aggressiveness and that such instinctive desires are evident in adults as well as in children.
In 1910 Schiele entered a new phase, distancing himself from Klimt. At this stage he began to use his own image as the main subject of his psychological explorations through self-portraits. The artist never stopped painting himself and produced close to one hundred self-portraits throughout his career. (Kandel 2012)
Schiele was an outspoken and original artist and a courageous expositor of the ideas of his time, who was not committed to beauty, but to truth. By using the physical to represent the spiritual the artist challenged the conservatism and values of a society that was slowly beginning to shift its mentality towards greater openness, without abandoning the search for truth beneath appearance, which was undoubtedly the driving force that propelled man towards twentieth century thinking.
Albertina Modern, differs from the controversial vision of Schiele as a provocateur, discussed and even censored in exhibitions in the XXI century as in 2018 (countries like Great Britain refused to participate in the events commemorating the centenary of his death, considering the artist as pornographic and at the limit of “morally acceptable”), reflecting in this exhibition, that Schiele’s quest was always the representation of the underlying psychological reality of the subject.
In an era of global pandemics, social networks, is there anything more sincere on the part of the artist than questioning himself, showing the truth, as it is, without hypocrisy, digging deep inside himself?
For more information: https://www.albertina.at/en/albertina-modern/exhibitions/schiele-and-his-legacy/
MARIA ISABEL NORIEGA MARRA, 2020. Egon Schiele: The Changing Thought of Viennese Modernism through the Visual Arts.
Kandel, Eric. 2012. The Age of Insight: The quest to understand the unconscious in art, mind and brain from Vienna 1900 to the present. New York: Random House
“Schiele and His Legacy.” The Albertina Museum Vienna, https://www.albertina.at/en/albertina-modern/exhibitions/schiele-and-his-legacy/.