Sitzender Männerakt, Egon Schiele, 1910 © Leopold Museum Wien

Egon Schiele


Seated Male Nude (Self Portrait), 1910
Oil on canvas, 152,5 x 150 cm
Leopold Museum Vienna, Inv. 465


Of the four great 1910 nudes on canvas the seated one reproduced here and the standing male version, for which Schiele acted as his own model, were probably the last to be painted. Their angular, pointed outlines are still startling, but are clearly derived from a style he had developed in earlier works such as the Autumn Tree with Fuchsias. The projections and hollows in the outline of the nude reproduced here seem to reflect the essential structure of the figure much more logically, creating striking breaks in the dynamic interplay of straight and curving lines. They are not merely ends in themselves, as they would come to be often enough in the years 1917 and 1918; rather, they are abstractions derived from the body’s actual contours deliberately employed for their formal effect. The division of the body’s surface into sharply defined areas in no way detracts from the overall structure. In many respects the figure has the quality of a woodcut.

The composition is exquisitely balanced. The splayed legs branch off from a columnar torso stretching up at an angle to the right. For balance, the head inclines in the opposite direction. To insure the integrity of the figure and guarantee its pictorial autonomy, its feet and any indication of the support on which it rests were simply omitted.

The flesh tones seem unnatural; they consist mainly of lighter and darker values of a greenish yellow set off by the orange of the rib cage and the reddish brown of the legs. These are in turn contrasted against the deep blue-black of the hair and various accents in red: the eye, the nipples, the navel, the genitals. The lighter yellowish tone of the trunk is bracketed by deeper shades above and below. The colors are all essentially sallow, and together with the angular projecting bone structure they suggest emaciation and weakness, but at the same time they reveal the essential structure of the figure. Here and there one becomes aware of a white aureole, but the lighter background as a whole is what gives the darker figure its vividness. Although Schiele frequently did not predetermine the sizes of the empty sections of his compositions, it is obvious in this case – as in the three other nudes on canvas and the portraits from this same year – that he placed the self-contained figure onto the white surface with great care. Its varying distances from the edges appear to have been calculated precisely.

Schiele never surpassed this figure in terms of composition and drama; all that he gained from here on was a richer sense of color. Form and expression have become as one. 

This text was written by Birgit Summerauer, Curator and Coordinator of the Egon Schiele Documentation Centre at the Leopold Museum, Vienna. You can find the painting in the Leopold collection.

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