Painting of naked woman hugging a woman in a red dress by Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele, Mother and Daughter, 1913 © Leopold Museum, Vienna

It’s the 100th anniversary of Austrian painter, Egon Schiele’s death and despite his short life (he died at the age of 28), he was one of the singularly most influential artists of 20th century – alongside his friend and mentor Gustav Klimt – and today, his paintings are still the subject of intrigue and controversy.

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Unbelievably, a series of advertisements showing Schiele’s contorted nudes were rejected by Transport for London in 2017 for being too sexually explicit and were also blocked by the anti-nudity restrictions on Facebook – imagine the stir they must have caused a century ago!

The posters of the artworks in the underground were covered up by slogans reading, 100 years old but still too daring today #ToArtItsFreedom provoking questions of censorship and conservatism by pointing out just how little attitudes have changed. In many ways, it’s a repeat of discussions around the artist’s work in war-time Vienna; many considered the Schiele’s paintings to be pornographic or ‘degenerate art’.

Black and white photograph of Egon Schiele with one of his paintings

Anton Josef Trcka, Egon Schiele next to his 1913 painting “Encounter”, which is now lost, © Leopold, Private Collection

The Jubilee Exhibition at the Leopold Museum has no such scruples, displaying a vast range of the artist’s paintings including images of young girls and his famous nudes, which are charged with sexuality, vitality and torture.

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Self portrait painting of Egon Schiele in striped shirt by Austrian artist Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Striped Shirt, 1910 © Leopold Museum, Vienna

But it’s not all bare skin and open legs: Schiele also produced a body of poetic work, which were designed almost as graphic works of art, focusing on similar topics to his paintings with a similar kind of distorted quality, using strange word combinations and syntax to create a particular kind of atmosphere. The originals of Schiele’s poems form part of the Leopold collection and whilst they might not display the same kind of mastery as his paintings, it’s a fascinating insight into a complex and energetic mind (providing you speak German…).

Millie Walton

‘Egon Schiele: The Jubilee Show’ runs until 4 November 2018 at the Leopold Museum, MuseumsQuartier, Vienna