Schiele’s great love: Leopold Museum honors Wally

First comprehensive Wally Neuzil exhibition – dedicated to Rudolf Leopold on his 90th birthday

Vienna (OTS) – Wally Neuzil, the muse and partner of Egon Schiele, is the focus of the new exhibition at the Leopold Museum, which is entitled "WALLY NEUZIL. Her Life with EGON SCHIELE" and is shown from 27th February 2015. It is the first time that an exhibition has been dedicated to the woman who between 1911 and 1915 was not only a model to the artist but also his best friend, lover and partner. Peter Weinhäupl, the Managing Director of the Leopold Museum, calls to mind that: "On 1st March 2015 Prof. Rudolf Leopold (1925-2010), the founder of the Leopold Museum, would have celebrated his 90th birthday. He has left behind a great legacy and we dedicate this exhibition to him".

Wally Neuzil – the person behind Schiele’s famous painting

The presentation curated by Diethard Leopold, Stephan Pumberger and Birgit Summerauer explores the life of Walburga "Wally" Neuzil (1894-1917), who we know first and foremost from the famous work "Portrait of Wally Neuzil" created by Egon Schiele (1890-1918) in 1912. The exhibition seeks to shed light for the first time on the person behind this painting by means of artworks, autographs, photographs and documents.

200 objects: paintings, drawings, photographs and documents

The exhibition at the Leopold Museum features important Schiele paintings as well as drawings and watercolors, many of which Wally posed for. The presentation comprises some 200 objects, including 18 paintings, 43 works on paper, approx. 80 photographs and slides, 32 autographs and numerous other documents. The selection features artworks from the collection of the Leopold Museum as well as loans from the Leopold Private Collection and other Austrian and international collections.

Reconstructed: Wally’s life by Schiele’s side

All known documents referring to Wally’s life were brought together for this exhibition. Through intensive research, the curators were able to reconstruct the life of the woman by Schiele’s side. The Director of the Leopold Museum (interim) Franz Smola explains: "Despite the rather sparse facts that we know about Wally, the research conducted at the Leopold Museum’s Egon Schiele Documentation Center (ESDZ) allows us to recreate a very personal picture of the lives of Egon and Wally during those years". The ESDZ was founded in 2009 on the initiative of Rudolf Leopold and Peter Weinhäupl and is now led by Stephan Pumberger, who took over this position from Sandra Tretter in 2013.

One of Rudolf Leopold’s favorite paintings: Schiele’s "Death and the Maiden"

Franz Smola is particularly proud of the many eminent loans the museum was able to secure for this presentation. These include the work "Death and the Maiden" (1915), "one of Rudolf Leopold’s favorite paintings" and Arthur Roessler’s photo album provided by the Wien Museum, which can be browsed through in its entirety in electronic form in the exhibition. Featured in the album are snapshots from Roessler’s summer sojourn in 1913 in Altmünster on the Traunsee, where Egon and Wally were Roessler’s guests for several days. The album contains the only photograph showing Egon Schiele and Wally together. Alongside numerous Austrian institutions, the exhibition also has many international lenders, including the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and various private lenders, some through the agency of Christie’s and the London gallery owner Richard Nagy.

Wally Neuzil: an extraordinary life

In the exhibition and its accompanying publication, Diethard Leopold shines the spotlight on the psychological aspects of Wally’s and Egon’s relationship. He feels that the dynamic of Wally’s personality becomes more tangible against the backdrop of Vienna around 1900 and that by looking at the life of Wally, the era of the early 20th century, in turn, becomes more vivid. According to him, the exhibition traces "the history of an extraordinary life, of a woman who took her fate into her own hands, before she was absorbed by the very background before which she had emerged, became severely ill and died young". Wally did not only support Egon in his everyday life but also helped him with his self-reflection, gave back and enabled him to question his own existence. Wally accompanied Egon in his doing, but also asked "what are you doing?".

Wally: Egon’s support during difficult times

Birgit Summerauer sees Wally "not only as Schiele’s most important model but primarily as a companion who stood by him during difficult times ". Those challenging moments included the time when Egon and Wally lived in Krumau and, misunderstood by the population, were forced to leave after only a short time, as well as Egon’s spells in prison, when he was kept in custody for 24 days in Neulengbach and then had to spend another three days behind bars in St. Pölten following his conviction for distributing indecent drawings.

Wally’s "humble background": a typical start in Vienna around 1900

Stephan Pumberger considers Wally Neuzil’s start in life "typical for the era of Vienna around 1900". Her unsettled life in precarious conditions, which meant that she moved 23 times between 1911 and 1917, worked in different professions within a short space of time and had hardly any personal possessions, stands in stark contrast to the often glorified years of the Gründerzeit era, with its construction boom, bourgeois families and art collectors. Following her painful separation from Schiele occasioned by his liaison and marriage with Edith Harms, Wally managed to build a completely independent existence. She trained as a nurse and volunteered to go to Dalmatia in the middle of the War. There, she worked at an army hospital and died of scarlet fever aged only 23. Less than a year later, Egon and Edith Schiele died of the Spanish Flu.  

Wally and Egon: taking the tram home with their last money

Elisabeth Leopold reminds us that while Wally’s life was far from easy and Schiele was always in financial trouble, the couple also experienced many happy times together. She recalls an anecdote about Wally asking Schiele’s collector and patron Heinrich Benesch for a few crowns, as Schiele had no money. "And what did Egon do? He took Wally to the Burgtheater, then they went out for a nice meal and with their last money, they took the tram home…"

The exhibition and accompanying publication

"Wally Neuzil. Her Life with Egon Schiele" is shown from 27th February to 1st June 2015 at the Leopold Museum, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna; open daily except Tuesdays from 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays until 9 pm. An accompanying book has been published on the occasion of the exhibition, edited by Diethard Leopold, Stephan Pumberger and Birgit Summerauer, with essays written by the editors and further contributions by Heidrun Zettelbauer and Ralph Gleis, Christian Brandstätter Verlag, 184 pages, 29.90 Euros.


Impressions from the opening:


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