A century after his death, why are we still so obsessed with Egon Schiele?

Detail of Egon Schiele's Self-portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant
Detail of Egon Schiele's Self-portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant

Fashions in art change faster than a traffic light, but the allure of the beautiful yet doomed young artist never wanes. Of such figures, none remains more edgily romantic than Egon Schiele, the proverbially tormented Austrian expressionist who died in 1918, aged just 28, having completed barely a decade’s work.

Schiele painted many things in his brief career – churches, boats, flowers, trees – but he tends to be thought of solely in relation to his figure paintings and drawings. In them, men and women, naked or provocatively half-dressed, are seen in writhing, tortured postures. They possess an anguished, self-destructive sensuality that is unmistakable and, for many, impossible to resist.

Kneeling Girl in Orange Dress (Gertrude Schiele), 1910 Credit: © Leopold Museum, Vienna

Schiele belonged to the belle époque world of early 20th century Vienna: the city of Gustav Klimt and Sigmund Freud, where neurosis was an even more fashionable accoutrement than it is today. But rather...

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