Egon Schiele (1890 - 1918), almost 100 years after his death, remains a fascinating and controversial artist. Probably the foremost authority on the life and work of this enigmatic artist is Jane Kallir and in this book she manages to enhance even her own previous treatises on the significance of Schiele's art. This book was published in tandem with an important exhibition at Galerie St. Etienne and no matter how many books (including Kallir's long list) about Schiele, this book is a revelation and belongs in the library of all lovers of his art, of social historians and those who are interested in the studies of the feminist movement.
Egon Schiele does not fit the title of feminist as his drawings and watercolors show women, including teenage prostitutes, in poses both awkward and erotic. `He slept with some of his models, impregnating one of them, and went to jail on charges (later dropped) of abducting and molesting a 14-year-old girl. At the very least he was a product of a patriarchal Austrian culture that found female sexuality mysterious and threatening -- one that insisted upon the purity of upper-class brides but made Vienna the streetwalking capital of Europe.' As Kallir states, `he rejected the stereotypical views of woman that classified her as either Madonna or whore, chaste or sinful. He did not judge his women; he merely observed.'
This elegant, richly illustrated book with many of Schiele's drawing and paintings shows Schiele working through a long and impressively varied list of female models, including his mother; a rebellious sister who sometimes posed nude for him; anonymous pregnant women in a maternity hospital; a pair of young prostitutes known as the "black-haired girls"; his redheaded lover Wally Neuzil; and his strait-laced bourgeois wife, Edith. Kallir advances her argument that Schiele's approach to women was more progressive than we tend to think, especially when it is seen in the context of fin-de-siecle Vienna. The most transgressive works here are not the drawings of women masturbating (embracing other women). They are the watercolors of pregnant women, unexpectedly clinical Madonnas with weary, desperate faces. (The book tells us that Schiele obtained access to their hospital rooms by providing the doctor with an oil painting.) There is also a startling image of a newborn baby who seems to have tumbled from the birth canal right onto the page.
Jane Kallir's fluid style of writing mixes art history with psychology and the result is a book that is both magnificent to behold and educational in the finest sense of the term. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, December 12