16.04.2021 – 26.09.2021

The Body Electric

Erwin Osen – Egon Schiele

The Body Electric


The exhibition is based on a series of recently discovered drawings by the Austrian artist Erwin Osen (1891–1970), friend to Egon Schiele (1890–1918). The works were almost certainly commissioned by Stefan Jellinek (1871–1968), a Viennese physician who specialized in the effects of electrical currents on the body. Newly acquired by the Leopold Museum from Jellinek’s heirs, this is their first public display.

Osen’s empathic drawings of male figures originated during World War I at the Garrison Hospital II in Vienna, where Jellinek treated soldiers with “war neuroses” or what would today be described as post-traumatic stress disorder. Osen, whose chronic neurasthenia or “nerve weakness” had worsened through military training and service, was himself a patient in Jellinek’s facility in the first half of 1915. His drawings of fellow soldiers, made both during and after his hospitalization, were kept by Jellinek.

Electrotherapy was widely used during World War I to treat soldiers who exhibited symptoms of tremor, paralysis, and limb contraction. Electrodes were usually attached to sensitive areas of the body – the neck, ears, testes, or toes – to transmit currents of varying degrees. The shocks supposedly corrected the motor symptoms and counteracted the enervating effects of “war neuroses.” The experience of pain was thought to instill in soldiers the will to return to health, and therefore to service. The treatment, which did not require consent, soon became highly controversial. In postwar republican Vienna, doctors came under increasing pressure to justify its use.

Osen’s tender drawings of soldiers who likely had received this treatment emphasize their vulnerability and humanity. They afford us an insight into wartime military medicine and also offer a new view on Vienna’s art history, pointing out the importance of clinical settings for the development of modernist portraiture and figuration. In 1910, Egon Schiele similarly spent time working within a hospital, depicting maternity patients and newborn babies. The exhibition contextualizes Osen’s drawings with Schiele’s work, reflecting on what each artist brought to what might be described as a “clinical modernism.”

In his famous poem I Sing the Body Electric, Walt Whitman (1819–1892) celebrates our physicality as our psyche. He calls upon himself to respond to the bodies of those he loves, “and charge them full with the charge of the soul.” Whitman’s poem prefigures Osen’s and Schiele’s shared interest in the body as subject – as the means by which we understand ourselves and our relations to others.

Curators: Gemma Blackshaw, Verena Gamper

“I sing the body electric,

The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,

They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,

And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.“

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

Stefan Jellinek’s Electropathology Collection

By the end of the 19th century, electricity had become the “magic power” of the modern age; electricity moved machines, lit streets, and also transformed private living spheres. Aside from its amenities, however, it also held great hazardous potential. From the late 1890s, the physician Stefan Jellinek devoted himself to the pathology of electricity accidents, an increasingly common cause of injury as electrification progressed. His focus was on documentation and treatment as well as on prevention, and from the beginning, his approach was multidisciplinary and aimed for international networking. In 1903, Jellinek established a new field of research with his publication entitled Electropathology. In the following years, he built a collection on electricity-related accidents comprised of objects, specimens, moulages, drawings, and photographs, which he first presented at the 1906 General Hygienics Exhibition in Vienna. He also promulgated his research by wide lecturing and publishing activities. The collection itself was open to visitors as part of guided tours of Vienna’s General Hospital, and in 1936 it was made a permanent institution under the direction of its founder as the Electropathology Museum. Shortly after the “Anschluss”, Jellinek was dismissed from his post, dispossessed of his collection, and eventually forced into emigration to England in 1939.

Josef Heu, "Burns and metal and soot impregnation of skin due from electric shock on May 21, 1917. Garrison Hospital No. 2.”, 1917Josef Heu, "Burns and metal and soot impregnation of skin due from electric shock on May 21, 1917. Garrison Hospital No. 2.”, 1917 © Josef Heu/Technisches Museum Vienna

The selection of drawings, photos, and wallcharts presented here for the most part is from the time of World War I. The war opened up new areas of use of electricity: aside from communications and lighting, these also included high-voltage electrical barriers for border security. Lack of experience with the still novel technology frequently led to severe injuries. Jellinek documented such injuries for his collection so as to make them available to scientific research. To do so, he both used photography and drawing, with a preference for the latter – presumably because of its interpretive character. His collection was not informed by the museological purpose of preservation and presentation, but defined itself as a research lab for the generation and classification of knowledge on electropathology.

Apart from documenting electricity-related accidents and collecting instructive objects and pictures, Jellinek also concerned himself with the therapeutic potential of electricity. In 1960, he published a standard work on Medical Applications of Electricity, which gave an overview of possible uses of electricity in medicine. As director of the neurology ward at the Garrison Hospital II, he developed various different mechanical apparatuses for the treatment of patients. He also employed electricity as a common if controversial therapy of “war neuroses,” treating, that is, the neurological and psychological wounds that many soldiers had suffered during the war. Such methods were not at all new medical terrain in World War I; after all, electricity had been in use by Austrian military medicine already in the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859. For one thing, the treatment was believed to speed up making soldiers ready for deployment again, and for another, to facilitate distinguishing presumed malingerers from those who were actually ill. After all, a patient’s healing, however short-lived, discharged the government from paying them an invalidity pension, which would have been statutory in cases of a war veteran’s permanent disability to work.


Osen completed his series of nine drawings of neurology patients in the first half of 1915. The images are harrowing: naked and distressed men; men with muscular contraction; men with cranial deformity and facial collapse. They stand or sit alone, isolated in order to become the absolute object of the medical gaze. References to the clinical environment as a spatial setting are minimal, if present at all; Osen’s modernism lies in his erasing of its signifiers. The clinical encounter the drawings manifest is conjured instead by his attention to afflicted body parts and to multiple views of the same figure, a method which evokes the presence of the scrutinizing doctor.

We do not know what led to the creation of the drawings. Medical patronage was part of cultural life in “Vienna 1900”, with, for example, artists being commissioned by doctors to draw the patients they treated. Osen had pre-wartime experience of such work, which Stefan Jellinek is very likely to have known about. The Garrison Hospital drawings are, however, unusual because in this case the artist was also a patient. Osen received treatment at the clinic twice in 1915, from March 9 to April 20, and from June 4 to June 21, after which he was declared permanently unfit for active service. Two of the drawings are dated, and they confirm that the series started during Osen’s first time as a patient and was continued during a break in his treatment in late April. Did Jellinek, knowing of Osen’s experience, approach him to do the work? Was it even conceived as part of a program of his rehabilitation? Such ultimately unanswerable questions suggest something of the complexities of the relations between doctors, artists, and patients in early twentieth-century Vienna.

Erwin Dominik Osen, Portrait of a Patient, 4.4.1915Erwin Dominik Osen, Portrait of a Patient, 4.4.1915 © Leopold Museum, Vienna, Photo: Leopold Museum, Vienna/Manfred Thumberger

Erwin Osen, Portrait of a Patient (“Bruno Granichstaedten”), 1915

Bruno Granichstaedten (1879–1944), the operetta composer, was depicted on April 26, 1915. His fame was such that he signed the image, an intervention which draws attention to Osen’s careful, individualizing studies of patients as people. Granichstaedten’s first major success in Vienna was with the nostalgic operetta Auf Befehl der Kaiserin (By Order of the Empress). Set in the idealized, carefree days of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s reign, it captivated war-torn audiences when it was premiered at the Theater an der Wien on March 20, 1915. Four weeks later, on April 20, Granichstaedten was hospitalized with what was described as moderate neurasthenia, arriving on the same day as Osen’s first release. In his admission records, Jellinek describes him as experiencing “a high level of nervousness,” spasms, flickering eyes, frequent headaches, and dizziness. Further notes detail his “strongly compressed head,” likely to be congenital, which is emphasized by Osen’s drawing of him in profile. The records also include remarks on Granichstaedten’s “hypalgesia” or decreased sensitivity to pain on the right side of the body, which may well have been tested through the application of electricity. Granichstaedten was discharged on May 3 and declared “fit for duty.”

Erwin Osen, Portrait of a Patient (“Catamite”), 1915

The late nineteenth-century notion of neurasthenia or “nerve weakness” was often connected to discourses on effeminacy in men. World War I gave a new impetus to the connection of nerve strength with heterosexual male vigor. Armies attempted to enforce “masculine” sexual identity in the context of militarization and the nation’s interests; homosexuality and transsexuality were not tolerated. We do not know this soldier’s name, which makes them difficult to trace in the archive and to identify what they were hospitalized for. Their representation as what Osen describes on the sheet as a “Lustknabe” or catamite, a boy who was the receiving partner in sexual intercourse, makes it very likely that they were excluded from the army, pathologized, and treated as “inverted.”

The naked, hairless patient is theatrically posed. They wear jewelry and makeup; fingers toy with nipples; crossed legs conceal genitals. Their hair is closely cut, but Osen provides another, fuller, more feminine hairstyle through a hair-covering, which he draws over the patient’s receding hairline. Did they ask to be represented in such a way? Or was this detail added by Osen to blur the patient’s gender even further? Questions of agency are also raised by the inclusion of an improbable array of brightly colored cushions which surround the patient. These were very likely to have been invented. They seem to conceal or stand in for clinical apparatus, transforming the hospital environment into something other than itself – something queer. How were such formal decisions reached? We do not know, but we can say that the “Lustknabe” occasioned an altogether different, more experimental response to the matter of depiction. In its color, its dynamism, its ambiguities and idiosyncrasies, the drawing itself resists the totalizing regime of the clinic that facilitated its production.

Erwin Osen’s Portrait of a Patient with Black Coat, 1915

The Garrison Hospital drawings were almost certainly commissioned by Jellinek for purposes of medical research and its dissemination. This was an established practice in Vienna, and indeed across Europe. Adolf Kronfeld used the drawings Osen made for him in 1913 of patients from Steinhof to illustrate a public lecture. Whilst photographs were certainly used to represent patients, life studies by artists were thought to capture something more elusive about them – a mood that escaped the objectifying regard of the camera, conveying the “truth” of their condition. The doctors who hired modernist artists associated with the avant-garde often claimed that their commissions were proof of the progressiveness of their approach to treatment and attitude to humanity more broadly.

Sympathetic artists often broke away from the illustrative objectives of medical commissions, foregrounding, like Osen, patient experience instead and problematizing the notion of the detached clinical gaze in markedly experimental, genre-crossing images. In this drawing of a patient standing in profile, naked except for the bandage wrapped around his head and tied about his neck, Osen departs from standard practice to allegorize his subject – a transformation which is discomforting. Depicted in full length, the patient’s pale and bloated body is set against a ground of black which evokes the shape of another, taller figure, hooded and cloaked, a “grim reaper,” the personification of Death.

Erwin Osen’s Portraits of Patients from the Hospital Am Steinhof, 1913

Both Osen and Schiele were connected to Dr. Adolf Kronfeld (1861–1938), a collector of both artists' work with a keen interest in the relationship between art and medicine, which he lectured and published on. In 1913, Osen wrote to Schiele, telling him about a series of drawings of patients Kronfeld had asked him to complete at Vienna’s psychiatric hospital Am Steinhof to accompany a talk the doctor was giving for its “Natural Scientists Day” on “pathological expression in portrait.” At least twelve drawings resulted from the commission, two of which are displayed here. The subjects are identified on their respective sheets as Karl Kulnik and Oskar Löwy; their included patient numbers date their admission to Am Steinhof as 1913 and 1911, respectively. Osen’s portraits, which Jellinek may well have seen, anticipate the work he did at the Garrison Hospital II. His marking-making may not be as accomplished here, but the arresting contrast between his attention to the face and suggestion of the body hints at what was to come.

Erwin Osen, Self-Portrait, 1915

Osen’s self-portrait in military uniform was completed on April 2, 1915, in the fourth week of his first stay at the Garrison Hospital. He depicts himself differently to the soldiers he represented, using a more expressive and suggestive line to capture his face and upper body. There are no references to the hospital on the sheet itself; rather, the drawing is identified as being created in Vienna. Osen also takes more care with his signature, presenting it in typically modernist fashion along with the date of the year in the format of a square, which denotes the sheet as a work of art. Such details identify Osen not as a patient but as an artist, first and foremost.

It is interesting that Osen represents himself in a manner which recognizably borrowed from Schiele. The furrowed brow, the strong hairline, the angular shoulders, and the prominent right hand with its consciously splayed fingers are much indebted to Schiele’s experiments with self-portraiture, especially from 1910 to 1913, when the artists were most closely associated. The double self-portrait on one sheet also was part of Schiele’s earlier practice but takes on a new meaning in the context of Osen’s hospitalization for what was diagnosed as severe neurasthenia with symptoms which included a facial tic. Schiele’s doubled self-portraits – images of the divided, conflicted self – were fundamentally performative. Osen’s self-portrait, completed within a neurology ward during a period of treatment, brings us to the complexities of these representations, which both referred to and elaborated on the image of the anxious individual.

Egon Schiele, “Sick Russian”, 1915

Unlike many of his fellow artists, Egon Schiele was initially exempted from military service in World War I due to a congenital heart disease. In the spring of 1915, however, he was pronounced fit for service and, briefly after his wedding with Edith Harms (1893–1918), was sent to Neuhaus (Jindřichův Hradec) in Bohemia to receive basic training. Entering the military entailed integration in a social structure that was in stark contrast to Schiele’s repeated periods of self-isolation in his early years. Right from the start, he sought the help of influential supporters to be transferred to the War Press Quarter in Vienna. Instead, he was deployed to work on building the city’s defenses and also served as a guard for transports of Russian prisoners of war between Gänserndorf and Vienna. In the second half of 1915 and also during his time at the prisoner of war camp in Mühling, Lower Austria, this deployment led to a series of memorable portraits of those prisoners. Marked by helplessness and loss of hope, they are made subject to the mechanisms of the institution of the prison camp – a power regime with a structure comparable to that of medical facilities for wounded soldiers.

Egon Schiele, „Sick Russian“, 1915Egon Schiele, „Sick Russian“, 1915 © Leopold Museum, Vienna, Photo: Leopold Museum, Vienna/Manfred Thumberger


Egon Schiele’s life and work have been the subject of intensive international research for decades, his art has come to epitomize the dissonant side of Austrian modern art. By contrast, the person of Erwin Osen, who was almost the same age, is surrounded by fiction and rumor, his visual oeuvre has remained largely unnoted and is in part lost today. The history of the friendship between the two artists, which continued for at least five years and had its ups and downs, therefore has to be told from a very mixed set of sources and in critical reflection of the disparaging picture that Arthur Roessler (1877–1955) drew in his 1922 book Erinnerungen an Egon Schiele (Remembering Egon Schiele) of the latter’s “encounter with the adventurer.”

The two artists first met, at the latest, in early summer 1909 when Schiele had dropped out of the Academy and was founding, together with like-minded companions – among them the “painter for theater art” Erwin Osen – the New-Art Group. Their friendship saw an early high point in summer 1910, which they spent together in Krumau (Český Krumlov). It was an experience that cannot be overestimated with regard to how it reflected on Schiele’s visual and lyrical creative work. His intense exploration of the male body and issues of sexual identity, which found expression in numerous nudes and, in part, explicitly androgynous nude self-portraits, perhaps took its inspiration from, or even was actively inspired by, the extrovert “Mime van Osen.” Osen was far more than a roommate or temporary model: he can be seen as the one who provided the impulse for the vitalization of the body in Schiele’s art, which decisively informed the revaluation of the body as a medium and, more importantly, in its own right.

This interest in the body as a carrier of expression was no singular phenomenon; the human physique and psyche received artistic and scientific attention of unprecedented intensity in the era around 1900, notably so in Vienna. Some works were created in the interface between artistic and medical issues, some were only made possible through personal contacts with doctors who granted access to medical institutions. Such depictions of the body have their genesis in a medical context inscribed in them, which not only transforms the view of these works but, with the questions it raises about visual regimes and objectification, also has an effect on other body representations.

Egon Schiele’s Portraits of “Mime van Osen”, 1910

In his Erinnerungen an Egon Schiele, Arthur Roessler dedicated an entire chapter to the “adventurer” Erwin Osen, describing him as “tall, slim, gaunt like an Arab, with the pale and beardless face of a ‘fallen angel,’” he was like “the character of the ‘hero’ in an exciting silver-screen spectacle” and his “well-trained figure” was steeped in “cinematic drama.” His “obviously virtuosic mimic expressive ability” was accompanied by “the no less nimble verbal expressiveness of the facile, playful fancy of a born improviser.” The encounter of this exalted man with Schiele, whom contemporary witnesses describe as shy, was indeed consequential, as Schiele was “utterly enthralled” by Osen and his female companion Moa Mandu, and “to be sure, even more by the man than the girl.” In his 1910 portraits of the “Mime van Osen” with his histrionic facial and gestural expression, Schiele created some of the most impressive staged depictions of expressive corporeality, which would be seminal for his specific style of Expressionism.

Schiele’s and Osen’s Drawings of Fuchsia

In May 1910, Egon Schiele and Erwin Osen relocated to Krumau, the home town of Schiele’s mother, to spend the summer together with Anton Peschka (1885–1940), who would later become Schiele’s brother-in-law. It was at this place, which both Schiele and Osen repeatedly returned to in the subsequent years, where both artists created paintings and drawings with very similar subjects. But while the two representations of flowering plants may resemble one another in motif, Osen’s Blooming Fuchsia and Schiele’s “Sun Tree” – which also shows a fuchsia plant – could hardly be further apart in style. Schiele uses a vibrant juxtaposition of vigorous contrasting color patches, which, mostly in the center of the composition, almost lose their representational character, and puts pictorial dramaturgy before motif. By contrast, Osen meticulously translates every last detail of the plant into a consciously nonmodern, registering visual language. Schiele’s compositional and coloristic boldness sets itself against Osen’s labored-looking attention to detail. This striking stylistic discrepancy between the two artists would also continue in their works of the following years.

The Dancer Moa Mandu

Being portrayed by Schiele, the Bosnian-born dancer Moa Mandu went down in art history, but historical sources about her person and life are scarce. A photograph of about 1910 shows her together with Osen in a performing pose. Beyond that, she was occasionally mentioned in reviews, and in 1919 she played the role of Aischa in the silent movie Der Hirt von Maria Schnee (The Herdsman from Our Lady of the Snows). The lack of verifiable facts led to her being identified with the stage characters she played. The role of the “Indian dancer,” in combination with Arthur Roessler’s description of her having the “visage of an Egyptian princess,” had the effect that she is sometimes described as dark-skinned today. A photo spread of 1922 in La Danse magazine shows, however, that her “exotic” looks consisted in not more than a slightly darker skin tone. In 1924, Fernand Divoire dedicated an entire chapter of his book Découvertes sur la danse to the dancer with a “rather white skin and the slightly arched elegance of Parisian mannequins,” before research lost trace of her in Berlin in 1926.

Schiele’s and Osen’s Portraits of the Dancer Moa Mandu

According to contemporary witnesses, the dancer Moa Mandu, about whom not much concrete is known except for her Bosnian origins, came in contact with Schiele through Osen. This led to a whole series of portraits of the dancer, whom Schiele, unlike many of his models, identified by name with “MOA,” in capitals, written next to the figure. One of the best of these portraits in terms of composition and coloring is in the collection of the Leopold Museum today. In cloisonné-like abstraction, the body of the dress extends across almost the entire height of the picture space before the pent-up, literally veiled body expression erupts with full force through the subject’s eyes. Rich in attributes, Arthur Roessler describes the “quasi-blank, large, jet-black eyes, melancholically gleaming from under brown-blue shaded, long-lashed, and overly heavy eyelids” of Osen’s companion as the central aspect of her physical appearance – which is reemphasized by Schiele in his portrait culminating in the subject’s gaze.

Like Schiele in his drawing, Osen, too, placed the focus on the expressiveness of the eyes in his portrait of Moa. The dancer, whose body is covered only from the waist down by a very ample skirt, frontally faces the viewer, conveying a sense of aggressive boldness and sexual libertinism. The 1924 book Découvertes sur la danse credits Mandu with engaging the torso in that, by artfully concealing and revealing it, she made it the main protagonist of dance. Osen succeeds in creating an exceptionally expressive portrait, which, despite all stylistic difference, does not at all need to fear comparison with Schiele’s rendering. Boosted by local events like the performance of Ruth St. Denis at the Vienna Ronacher Palace theater in February 1908, the exoticism and mystique of far-away countries – and with them, the fear of the foreign – was captured in the image of the “oriental” and brought to the stage or screen in a sanctionable performing-art context. By portraying the dancer as the personification of foreignness, both Osen and Schiele align themselves with this long-standing pictorial tradition.

Egon Schiele’s Drawings of Pregnant Women, 1910

A number of studies of women identifiably in the late stages of pregnancy that are associated with Vienna’s 2nd Women’s Clinic. In contrast to Osen, Schiele did not write the location of the drawings or names of the sitters on the sheet. However, the coinciding of these images with correspondence from the gynecologist Dr. Erwin von Graff (1878–1952) on Schiele’s girlfriend, Liliana Amon (1892–after 1939), an antenatal patient from May to August 1910, indicates that the subjects were patients within the clinic, one of whom may well have been Liliana herself. The clinic had a threefold mission: “the cure and care of sick women and assistance in their most difficult moments; the instruction of the rising generation in the relevant areas of care; the further development of the field through the extension of knowledge, skills, and competence.” It was part of a teaching hospital, a center of international research excellence with celebrated facilities and technologies. Schiele erased this clinical context in his representation of the women. Understanding both the power of negative space and the “presence” of what is absent, Schiele did not depict the clinic’s modern examination chairs, designed to facilitate close looking at the vulva, vagina, and womb. Instead, the clinical space and encounter is described through the lines of the female body; a body in pieces, atomized, controlled, contained.

Egon Schiele’s Studies of Newborns, 1910

These are examples of the six known studies of newborn babies delivered in Vienna’s 2nd Women’s Clinic, which look very much like representations of the same child. The clinic was equipped with 200 beds for maternity patients and 52 beds for gynecology patients. Beds were dispersed through large, open wards and smaller rooms for one to three patients. The clinic was for women across the social spectrum, but through this spatial organization, class differences could be observed. The clinic’s facilities and technologies exemplified the processes of professionalization that were at this very moment in time consolidating the power of the doctor over that of the female institution of midwifery. These processes were bound up with a technocratic model of obstetrics which pathologized pregnancy and birth, relocating them as experiences from the home to the hospital. As an expressionist, Schiele often exaggerated the thinness of his models’ limbs, the size of their heads compared to their bodies, and the color of their skin; living subjects often looked on the point of death. The emaciation of this baby’s arms and legs, and the coloring of their hands and feet with blue and purple tones is, however, marked. Moreover, whilst Schiele certainly worked quickly, newborn babies were not left uncovered for long, especially after their umbilical cords had been cut, signaling the end of their delivery. Was this child alive or dead? The drawings’ power lies in their indeterminacy.

The physicians Erwin von Graff and Adolf Kronfeld

In 1910, the assistant of the director of the 2nd Women’s Clinic in Vienna, Erwin von Graff (1878–1952), offered Schiele an opportunity to draw pregnant women on the examination table as well as newborns right after delivery. Schiele’s representations of those bodies are among his most impressive pictures of that year in which his reflection on the correlation of sexuality and death in the figure of the mother, central as it was to him, reached an early culmination point.

The clinic was situated in the immediate vicinity of the house in Höfergasse 18 where Graff lived and where Osen would later also have his studio. After the two artists had moved to Krumau together in early May 1910, Graff told Schiele in a letter – in which he also send his regards to Osen – about one L. A. who had been admitted into the Women’s Clinic. The person in question was Liliana Amon who probably first came to the clinic on May 17, 1910 (stated occupation: model) and three months later gave birth to a daughter there. Decades later, Amon, who lived in Paris at the time, published an autobiographical novel entitled Barrières, which makes it possible to reconstruct the story: The female main character, Anna Lisser, is already pregnant when she meets the painter “Egon S…”, moves in with him and sits for him as a model until one “docteur Graf”, for the sake of Schiele’s art career, talks her out of any dream of a future together with him.

One name, aside from Erwin von Graff, that Schiele put on a list of collectors of his works that he made in 1915 was that of physician and writer Adolf Kronfeld (1861–1938), who also had a degree in art history and published on medical as well as art-history topics. Kronfeld was first mentioned by Schiele in the context of a purchase of drawings, while the earliest connection with Osen was a painting of the town of Krumau of 1912, which Kronfeld bought from him. In 1913, for a lecture entitled “On the Pathology of the Portrait: Neurological and Psychiatric Aspects. (With Demonstrations),” which he was scheduled to give at the 85th Convention of German Natural Scientists and Physicians in September of that year in Vienna, the physician commissioned Osen to do a number of portraits of patients of the psychiatric clinic Am Steinhof, at least two of which are still extant and on view in the exhibition. There is no evidence, in works or correspondence, of whether Kronfeld also tried to get Schiele to do commissioned portraits of this kind.


Biographical contacts between Erwin Osen and Egon Schiele are evidenced for the years between 1909 and 1914 through various sources, including a correspondence that, while not extensive, continued throughout that entire period. Whereas no letters from Schiele directly addressed to Osen have survived, though several remarks he made to third parties have, the latter sent his artist friend notes and messages, alternatively written in German or English, from Athens, Trieste, Prague, Munich, and other places. The extant documents show that the relationship between the two men was not free of conflict. What set the tone for the retrospectively created image of the friendship between Osen and Schiele was the accusation, raised by Arthur Roessler in his Erinnerungen an Egon Schiele in 1922, of misappropriation of works and working utensils of Schiele in summer 1912 and of forgery of Schiele drawings. Apart from these – if true – grave incidents, the surviving documents speak to a friendship that lasted for at least five years and was marked by joint projects and travels as well as mutual support.

“Here in Athens, there is a revolution of the military and the rabble going on, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I am really fine here, already well-known and popular because of my humor also speak quite a lot of Greek already. I am asking you to be so kind and let me leave my suitcase with you. Going on a cruise of the entire Peloponnese will send you cards I’m putting to sea Monday. Many thanks in advance and my kindest regards to everybody your grateful menace Osen.”

Erwin Osen to Egon Schiele, September 12, 1909

In the spring of 1913, Osen moved to Munich to work at the Artists’ Theater. As per him, he had the position of head production designer; the only existing evidence of this is his design of a poster for the comic opera The Mikado. His moving away from Vienna resulted in intensified correspondence with Schiele, in which Osen, in his typical exalted manner, told about the design work for a production of Parsifal, among other things. In December 1913, Schiele wrote to Erich Lederer (1896–1985) that he would be traveling to Prague for the premiere on New Year’s Day of 1914 because he had promised Osen to do so. The last extant greetings by mail from Osen – and Moa Mandu – to Schiele date from January 1914. Their staying in friendly if loose contact is evidenced by the fact that Schiele included his fellow artist’s Munich address in a personal address list datable to 1917/18. By that time, however, Osen, having returned from Vienna after stationary treatment for neurasthenia at the Garrison Hospital II, had already left Munich for Berlin where he, by his own account, became a “reformer of the stage.”

“Honorable rabble! Esteemed table company from Eichberger’s café and dive. Dear Mr. and Mrs. Egon Schiele! Unwell I am, and unwell I have arrived to golden Prague and I now allow myself to throw my thoughts out to your depraved and infested periphery. God! Since I am such a cleanly person! I have insanely much to do, doing a stage design for Parsifal is a fucking toil. God! What a wicked man I've been!”

Erwin Osen to Egon Schiele, December 1913

© Gemma Blackshaw, Verena Gamper, 2021.