Pencil on paper
45.2 x 28.8 cm
This sheet, dated 1916, reveals at a glance how very different Schiele’s work as a figure draughtsman had become by the mid-point of the Great War. While apparently unmoved by the advent of hostilities in the summer of 1914, and indeed not initially classified as “fit for active service”, Schiele had, within ten months, been constrained to enlist – he was to serve, in various provincial locations, as an “office soldier” – and was able to resume a semblance of his pre-War pattern of life and work in Vienna only when transferred to a post there in January 1917. Of the earlier War years, 1916 was in fact to prove Schiele’s least artistically productive. And it would not be unreasonable to understand this period as one in which he “retreated” from the bold formal experiments of 1914, led by a combination of circumstance and a sense of resignation to invest, instead, in the joys of “verisimilitude”.
A parallel, and rather more positive, account of the same period might centre around the ostensible subject of this drawing: the woman whom Schiele first met during the course of 1914 and married the following summer, Edith, née Harms. While Schiele’s army duties were to prove inimical to the couple’s happiness during the first year of their marriage, a period of relative “domestic bliss” was vouchsafed to them in May 1916, when Schiele was transferred to a post at an army encampment in “idyllic” Mühling and he and Edith were able to make their home in a nearby cottage.
In almost all of Schiele’s drawn and painted records of her, the prudish Edith is clothed, the first of his two paintings (1915) being as much a record of her distinctive home-made striped gown as of its doll-like wearer (Kallir, cat. rais. no. P 290). Two preparatory black crayon sketches for that canvas do, however, achieve a much more satisfactory integration of figure and costume, while also hinting at Schiele’s genuine fascination with the visual complexity of the striped fabric in its cut, gathers and folds (Kallir, cat. rais. nos. D 1719; D 1720). While not explicitly identified as a record of Edith, our 1916 drawing has much in common with several others from this year that are so designated.3 the face, as was indeed often Edith’s express wish, is there concealed (as also in our sheet); but the sitter is in each case identifiable through her costume.
In our Seated Woman, as if savouring the visual density of material reality, Schiele pores over minor sartorial details: the precise construction of the suspenders, the frilled edges of the undergarments. But the image as a whole is energised through a far more vigorous treatment of the dress, the head and the limbs. Closer inspection reveals, nonetheless, that Schiele’s model – be it at his request or at her own insistence – has here settled for adopting an approximation of the requisite pose but has stopped short of simulating any relevant action. Her right leg is raised, its ankle resting on her left knee, and the stockinged thigh is exposed, but the hands do not engage.
3 Woman with Raised Skirt (Edith Schiele), Kallir, cat. rais. no. D 1826, or Woman Adjusting Her Stockings (Edith Schiele), Kallir, cat. rais. no. D 1828.
Galerie Würthle, Vienna, - C.I. Rittmannsberger collection, Vienna.
Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, New York, 1990, cat. rais. no. 1825, illustrated p. 561.