Egon Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait) © Leopold Museum, Vienna, Inv. 465

Egon Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait)

Here, the only 20-year-old Egon Schiele shows himself to be an artist whose development is already impressively complete, having created in this self-nude a composition which is most disturbing but at the same time well-considered and well-balanced; in terms of its dramatic expressivity, this work was hardly to be exceeded later on.
The depicted yellow-green body contorts unnaturally and thus seems somehow locked inside itself. Indeed, the figure seems to have no way of making contact with its environment, since—in this painting—there quite simply is none: it was with quite some courage that the young Schiele placed himself on this empty, white canvas. Prior to this work, such a radical reduction of the background had hardly ever been done. The figure is left entirely to its own devices here, with no way of communicating; even if it so desired, it would be unable to gain a foothold in our society, figuratively and even literally, since it has no feet. Within it, however, there glimmers the full passion of an existence. It glows like lava from the body’s openings, from the eyes, the nipples and the navel; one is reminded of the words written by Franz Kafka:

“When you stand before me and regard me, what do you know of the pain that is within me, and what do I know of yours. And if I were to throw myself down on the ground before you and weep and tell you stories, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you that it is hot and horrible? For this reason alone, we human beings should stand before one another just as respectfully, contemplatively and lovingly as we would before the gates of Hell.”

[Franz Kafka in a letter to Oskar Pollak, 8 November 1903]


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