Portraits, Nudes, and Self-Portraits: Egon Schiele

by Maisie

The subject of eroticism has always been a part of art in one form or another. To many artists, there is no better and more beautiful image to draw in all of nature than that of the perfect proportions of the human body.

In classical painting, topics such as nudity and sexuality were dealt with in a dignified and unsexual manner. However, by the time the modern art movement of the early twentieth century came around, all these previous prudences had been thrown out the window, and artists were free to express themselves to the fullest extent of their desires.

One such artist who tackled taboos such as nudity and sex head-on and made them the focal point of his artwork was Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele. Schiele not only succeeded in creating some of the unique portrait paintings ever seen, but he also carried the ideas of Expressionism and Liberalism to the next level.

Portrait of Wally (1912)

In a collection of interesting paintings, the Portrait of Wally is one of Egon Schiele’s most exciting and best-known paintings. The portrait is of Walburga Neuzil, a young woman who became Schiele’s lover, model, and muse and was a big part of Egon Schiele life story.

The portrait almost seems to have been painted using a fish-eye lens. Classical portrait standards would condemn the outsized proportions of Wally’s head, eyes, and posture. Nevertheless, it is these very factors that give the portrait its one-of-a-kind charm.

Like much of Egon Schiele’s art, elements of several styles are found within Wally’s distorted masterpiece. Speaking of fish-eyed perspective, Wally can be viewed as a groundbreaking piece of work that has indirectly inspired the likes of music videos and the selfie craze that has taken over our world today.

Nude Self Portrait (1910)

To paint a good self-portrait takes an open mind and a certain degree of courage. Many art historians and critics have pointed out that a self-portrait is a psychological self-analysis. By looking at the portrait, we can understand how the artist viewed it.

To challenge this notion and take it even one step further, Egon Schiele depicted himself naked in many self-portraits. If this wasn’t radical enough already, Schiele also painted his bodily features wildly twisted and distortedly. This perhaps plays more profoundly into the psychological theory of how the artist may have viewed himself.

In his 1910 painting titled Nude Self Portrait, Schiele is portrayed as armless with a starved corpse like body. His face is eerily distorted and seemingly lifeless, while his genitals appear mutilated. Schiele has been commended for his boldness, and his self-portraits are considered some of the twentieth century’s most significant nude works.

Standing Girl (1910)

Standing Girl is one of Schiele’s most famous and well-known drawings, and with good reason. It embodies many artistic influences from the previous century within its composition. Influences such as Japonism, Africanism, and The Art Noveau stylings of Gustav Klimt can all be found in the painting.

Gustav Klimt was a mentor of Schiele, and aspects of his style can be seen in some of Egon Schiele’s paintings. Standing Girl is comparable to many of Klimt’s legendary works, and you would be forgiven for thinking it was indeed a Klimt painting.

Schiele proudly carried the eroticism-infused art of Vienna into the twentieth century and, like any great artist, pushed the envelope further and added his imprint. Standing Girl can be seen as an homage to all the earlier artists who both, directly and indirectly, inspired Schiele.

The Embrace (1917)

The painting of The Embrace beautifully embodies everything the Expressionist movement is about. However, instead of focusing on trying to reproduce a realistic rendition of reality, Expressionism alternatively attempts to capture the emotions and feelings behind the event itself.

In other words, the Expressionist artist strives to produce an emotional experience rather than a solely visual one. For example, in Embrace, two naked lovers are holding each other intimately, and emotions such as love and tenderness are easily invoked in the viewer when viewing the painting.

Other than painting female nudes, which seemed to be Schiele’s favorite topic, the symbol of lovers follows as a close second and features many of his paintings. These erotic motifs also are traced to the influence of Schiele’s mentor and idol, Gustav Klimt.

The Family (1918)

The portrait of The Family is yet another of Egon Schiele’s most famous paintings and poignantly reflects the tragedy of Schiele’s life story. It would be one of the Austrian artist’s final paintings before his untimely death at just the age of twenty-eight.

The Family retains the nudity and abstract nature that Schiele is famous for. However, it also holds a much darker and more serious tone that is lacking from most of Schiele’s other works. On the surface, it is a self-portrait of Schiele and his family. On another level, though, there are shades of much deeper ideas at play here- ideas such as the origins of humankind and the fragility of life, to name just two.

In the painting, Schiele sits at the head of his family, with his wife and their child underneath him. It is fascinating to note that although Schiele and his wife are naked, the baby is fully clothed, and its hands seem almost skeleton-like as it clings tight to its mother.


Egon Schiele’s art and paintings stand out for several reasons. Not only are they raw and unabashed, but they are also entirely novel and unique, and this is what art is genuinely all about. Although he died before he fully blossomed as an artist, Schiele still left us with many beautiful paintings to admire and appreciate.

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