The painting Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano by Egon Schiele (1890-1918), one of the artist’s important early works, will soon be on display at the Leopold Museum as a permanent loan.

The Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger and Verena Gamper, head of the Leopold Museum Research Center, recently managed to retrieve a true art treasure with this painting.

"The 1907 Schiele painting Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano, which was believed to be lost, has in fact been preserved in good condition in a private collection. The owners of the work have agreed to place the painting at the disposal of the Leopold Museum as a permanent loan. Following the cleaning and restoration of the painting, we want to make it accessible to the public as part of our permanent presentation on Vienna 1900. The work will further be minted as a NFT (Non Fungible Token) and will be a bonus highlight in addition to the works selected for the imminent NFT Launch of Schiele works from the Leopold Collection. We hope that the proceeds will not only finance the painting’s restoration but will ideally also allow us to acquire the Czihaczek portrait." Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Director of the Leopold Museum

Leopold Czihaczek, Schiele’s uncle and guardian

The painting shows Egon Schiele’s uncle and legal guardian, Leopold Czihaczek (1842-1929), playing the piano. Czihaczek had received the painting – presumably a commissioned work – directly from his nephew and ward Egon Schiele. Schiele portrayed his uncle several times between 1907 and 1908. Following the untimely death of Egon’s father Adolf Schiele (1850-1905), Czihaczek – who was married to Marie, one of the father’s sisters – assumed Egon Schiele’s guardianship in 1906. The public official Leopold Czihaczek was an undersecretary and chief inspector of the Kaiser Ferdinands-Nordbahn belonging to the Imperial Royal Austrian State Railways. His apartment on Zirkusgasse in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district comprised a large music salon with two pianos, as Otto Kunst reported in his article “Egon Schiele und seine Tante” [Egon Schiele and his Aunt] published in the newspaper Der Wiener Tag on 21st March 1937.

Egon Schiele’s first years at the Academy

Egon Schiele originally intended to study at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. The drawings he submitted showed such talent, however, that he was advised to apply to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts instead. On 3rd October 1906, Leopold Czihaczek telegraphed to his wife Marie: "Egon passed splendidly". The relationship between Schiele and his Academy professor Christian Griepenkerl (1839-1916), who was already 68 at the time and also taught Carl Moll, Richard Gerstl and Anton Faistauer, was strained from the beginning, leading to Schiele and several of his colleagues leaving the Academy in the spring of 1909.

"In terms of style, the painting’s brushwork reveals Impressionist tendencies and shows the muted palette characteristic of his early oeuvre. In terms of composition, Schiele proposed a differentiation of illuminated and shadowed sections, which allowed him to negotiate the unusually large horizontal format despite the chosen perspective. The close-up view of the piano player, the framing of the head, shown in lost profile, by the bright window panes and the resulting focus on the sheets of music all convey an effect of being entirely immersed in the music. This effect is echoed in the hands which the artist rendered in a deliberately blurry manner and as if detached from the rest of the body." Verena Gamper, Leopold Museum Research Center

Preliminary drawing, color sketch, painting

The painting was previously only known from preliminary studies and a black-and-white photograph showing a room in which it hung. Up until now, neither the technique nor the measurements of the work had been identified. A first preliminary drawing for the painting is dated "Schiele 17.IV.07", while a subsequent color sketch (Rudolf Leopold 1972, no. 31; Jane Kallir 1998, P35) is undated. This latter work, a gouache on cardboard measuring 23.9 × 36.7 cm, is housed today by the Wien Museum. The painting, measuring 60.2 x 100.7 cm (Rudolf Leopold 1972, no. 31 a), has a designation on the reverse on the stretcher frame reading "begonnen 21.IV.07" [begun 21st April 1907] and is signed and dated on the lower right front "Schiele 12.V.07". Schiele thus painted the work at the age of 16, shortly before his 17th birthday.

The painting is held by its original frame, and the canvas is stretched on the original stretcher frame with old nails. The original frame also appears in the photograph which served as the front side of a picture postcard sent by Gustav Huber (1878–1945) to Marie Czihaczek in early December 1930 featuring the handwritten date "6/XII 30". Gustav Huber, who – like Schiele – received financial support from Leopold Czihaczek following the untimely death of his parents, owned the painting until his own passing in 1945. After that, it remained part of a private collection.

Unbroken provenance

The provenance of the work is entirely clear: From Leopold Czihaczek, Vienna (from 1907), it came into the possession of Gustav Huber, Vienna (before 1930–1945), and subsequently remained part of an Austrian private collection. Melanie Schuster, Egon Schiele’s older sister, told Rudolf Leopold that Gustav Huber and Leopold Czihaczek had known each other through Huber’s father. Czihaczek had paid for Gustav Huber’s law studies. When he was appointed a director of the Austrian State Railway – the exact date of this appointment being unclear – Huber was said to have asked for the painting Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano as a gift.


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