Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude At Courtauld Gallery
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Egon Schiele was an Austrian painter who, along with his fellow countrymen Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, changed the nature of portraiture and representing the human figure in the early 20th century. Schiele died aged only 28, succumbing to the Spanish flu that only three days before had claimed the life of his pregnant wife — yet even in that short time he created some great works.
Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude examines the artists's drawings and watercolours of nudes and how they were strikingly different to anything that had come before them. Nudes are a familiar subject in classical art, yet before Schiele they were almost always shown in a positive light — reclining languidly or striking an athletic pose.
Schiele turned this convention on its head, depicting nudes in contorted positions and women displaying their genitalia confidently, sometimes aggressively. He wasn't afraid to tackle taboos — depicting prostitutes, a pregnant woman, and two girls embracing. Many of Schiele's works raise an eyebrow even today, so you can imagine the controversy they must have sparked in early 20th century Vienna.
It's not just women that Schiele depicted, and several self-portraits are on display here, showing the artist both emaciated and improbably contorted. At times he disposes of any attempt at portraiture and simply paints a nude body — the lower half of a man in blue and purple is quite repulsive to look at. Schiele's unflattering bodies came long before Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud would take up this mantle.
This is one of the best exhibitions we've seen at the Courtauld Gallery.
Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude is on at the Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House until 18 January. Tickets are £8.50 for adults and includes entrance to the permanent collection.
For more great art in London, see our October listings.
Last Updated 23 October 2014