FOR THE POOR OF THE ERZGEBIRGE
Watercolour and pencil on paper
24 x 17 cm
This is one of three surviving variants, probably made in quick succession, of Schiele’s design for what appears to be a poster advertising an event at the Viennese Rathaus [City Hall] in 1913: perhaps a dramatic or musical performance or a series of lectures, with the proceeds intended for charity. At 24 by 17 centimetres, our sheet is around 30 per cent smaller than are the other two. It may be on this account that it is both the least successful in accommodating its two inscriptions,1 yet also the most resolved in the treatment of the central, pictorial segment. While the “family” depicted on each occasion – formally and chromatically distinct male and female figures and a sketchily rendered infant – here forms a cohesive group, the other compositions are more dynamic but also less coherent, perhaps intended to evoke the perils impeding the reunion of loved ones, or the restoration of the child, momentarily endangered, to its mother’s arms. Schiele’s use of red in combination with a deep blue and a vibrant turquoise is in keeping with the marked brightening of his palette at this time. And the echoes of folk art in both the angular form of the man and the statuesque rotundity of the woman attest to his concurrent attraction to the aesthetic of the vernacular.
There is no record of any of the three variants of Schiele’s poster design having been formally accepted for printing and distribution, nor of any corresponding event taking place at the Viennese Rathaus during the course of 1913.2 There was, however, some awareness in Vienna at this time of the plight of many rural communities in the Erzgebirge, a hilly region straddling the border between north-western Bohemia and south-western Saxony, as its prosperity (assured for centuries through intensive silver-, tin- and copper-mining and a renowned glass-making industry) entered upon a period of unprecedentedly rapid decline. The staging of an ambitious industrial and agricultural Deutsch-Böhmische Landesschau [German-Bohemian Regional Show] at Komotau / Chomutov during the summer of 1913 was intended to boost confidence; but this was sapped by the sad symbolism of developments such as the loss of the last of the major Erzgebirge silver mines, which ceased operations that year.
The Erzgebirge was not a region to which Schiele’s own travels around and beyond the Dual Monarchy had ever taken him; and his grasp of, and interest in, contemporary socio-economic issues is known to have been slight. It has, however, been suggested that the commission for the poster design may have come to him through Serena and August Lederer,3 leading patrons of Gustav Klimt, who had generously introduced Schiele to them, resulting in an invitation to spend Christmas and New Year 1912/13 at their palatial home in Győr, Hungary. As the Lederer family fortune derived from the alcohol distilling business founded by August’s father in the northern Bohemian cities of Böhmisch Leipa / Česká Lipa and Jungbunzlau / Mlada Boleslav, and this had in turn involved the regular supply of potash (a by-product of the distilling process) to the glass-makers of the nearby Erzgebirge, it is conceivable that enduring commercial connections with this region would have induced the next generation to support related charitable causes.
1 The inscriptions featured in each of the other designs (Kallir, cat. rais. nos. D 1458; D 1459) reads: “DIE ARMEN / IM ERZGEBIRGE” (above the image), and “IM RATHAUS / WIEN 1913” (below the image), with the words more evenly positioned throughout.
2 I am most grateful to Suzie Wong and to Isabella Wasner-Peter of the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Vienna, for their advice on this point.
3 See Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, expanded edn., New York and London 1998, catalogue raisonné no. 1458: the conclusion drawn from the fact that this variant of the design, now in the Grafische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, inv. no. 30.768, had initially been owned by Serena Lederer.
private collection, Austria
Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, expanded edn. New York and London 1998, catalogue raisonné no. D 1460.