Egon Schiele Self-Portrait

Egon Schiele was a printmaker and a painter born in 1890 in Vienna Austria. He had a signature graphic style of art that entailed extensive use of figural distortion and total disregard of the conventional norms of human and environmental beauty. In most of his self-portraits, the pieces of art within which his disfigured his looks where he mainly explored aspects of sexuality and sitters’ psyches. His self-portraits exhibited unprecedented degrees of sexual and emotional directness here in most of them, he depicted himself in revealing, nude and unsettling angles with a below and above view. The paintings were characterized by an emphasis on linearity, contour, and graphic mark. It is imperative to note that Schiele’s artwork was mainly influenced by his mentor and friend Gustav Klimt ho was a painter especially with respect to erotic images. Before his death in 1918, Schiele was able to create over two thousand paintings that are now exhibited in a Museum in Vienna Austria. His most important and widely recognized piece of art as the self-portrait of 1910 sitters’ psyches.

When Egon Schiele left working Gustav Klimt he decided to adopt his own style that unlike Glimt’s artwork that was characterized by the physical appearance of the drawings and paintings, his paintings focused on evoking emotions. The painting as created during the Austrian expressionism which initially based on painting and poetry and focused on presenting the world primarily from a subjective perspective. In this modernist movement, the expressionist artists focused on conveying messages about feeling instead of physical realities for instance atmospheric naturalism. The cultural movement aimed to break the conservative society in Vienna that strongly opposed perspectives about nudity as they considered it to be radical. That is to say that Schiele focused on breaking the Viennese conservative culture and art through his paintings. In such a case, it explains why he got into a scandal after being spotted drawing a painting of a woman who was posing while naked on the slopes of the hill. Therefore, he drew self-portraits portraying him in a disfigured manner such as glowing eyes, exposing fill naked body and deformed legs.

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The subject of Egon Schiele artworks was to express aspects of modernity a larger proportion of which he expressed through the use of erotic images. It should be noted that it is when he changed the style and subject of his paintings that his career rose from 1905 to 1918. His use of erotic images may be related to his youthful stage when his drawing career took growth path. Other perspectives about his paintings concur that the artwork was a representation of the compassion he had for the female subjects who posed for his drawings. The self-portrait of 1920 provides a brief overview of his boldness in representing himself with nudity. In the drawing, he exhibits his manhood in a conspicuous way. When this painting is compared to most of his other paintings involving female characters it affirms that the primary subject in his artwork revolved around sexuality.

Basing on the fact that Schiele was an expressionist his art portrayed various messages not only about himself but also the Viennese society. From his biography, he was a shy and self-centered young man which proved to be a challenge with his interaction with other people in the society. His self-portraits mainly comprised of nude self-portrayals which when compared to other drawings, he was trying to pass across a message about his sexuality. When, compared to his scandalous life, it is evident that he was expressing ideas about himself about his love for women and sex as a larger proportion of them comprised of nudist aspects. Furthermore, the nude drawings pass the message about him having a fetishistic obsession with women. He was grappling with the challenge of sexual identity keeping in mind that he was created the paintings during his early twenties. His decision to go into hiding after being confronted about naked subjects posing for his drawing signifies that the society had was not in support of his radical art.

In the self-portrait of 1910, it Schiele creates a painting of himself with glowing red eyes while looking on the side probably from a sense of shame in facing the observer. Here, his is expressing his feelings of despair resulting from loneliness and glowing hostility. The pose, involving a twisted arm is a representation of the modern dance. It was an expressionist mode that he extensively practices in his expressionist movement. His pieces of art faced opposition from the conservative Viennese society and therefore, the hostility exemplified seems to be directed at it. The feet seem to be amputated which signifies the frustrations he was going through as a result of the society’s lack of support and financial rewards for his work. Additionally, the portrait shows him having deformed legs as a way of affirming his looks in the eyes of the hostility he was facing.

The line and contour and shown on his face exemplify the feeling of anxiety he had at the time of creating the drawing. The anxiety resulted from the lonely her he was living after being excommunicated from his home and the financial hardships he was going through at the time. For instance, he looks skinny and his skin shows that he has been subjected to harsh elements as it appears abraded. In such a case, he was passing across a message that despite his successes in painting he had underlying issues which were key influencers of his drawings. He was appealing to the society and his family in particular about his well-being.

Something interesting about Egon Schiele piece of work is that it totally goes against the societal norms. First is the aspect of appeal where he created ugly paintings at the time when the Viennese society art mainly focused on the physical beauty of the subjects represented in those paintings. The self-portrait of 1910 shows that his has deformed legs and the drawing has no background aimed at directing the viewers’ attention to the subject in the foreground. Secondly, he creates a nude piece of art in a conservative society which considered it to be radical. For this reason, it is justifiable to assert that the real intention of his paintings was to rebel against the norms as he belongs to an expressionist movement that embraced modernity. Furthermore, he expresses his adolescent and post-adolescent mind vividly and the painting portrays him as a person who is still exploring his sexuality.

The piece of art is also interesting since it elicits imagination about who he was. For instance, this together with other paintings mainly revolve around the subject of sexuality yet in this case he seems to be ashamed evident with the way he partially hides his face. That is if he was bold enough to go against the societal norms he should have directly faced the viewers. In such a case, the issue about his boldness direct viewers to other areas to provide explanations for the pose. The image is attention seeking in that every part communicates the message of sadness and fury to the reader which must be optimally interpreted to facilitate in-depth understanding. The complexity of the painting provides room for conflicting interpretations among scholar perhaps due to varied perspectives.

Egon Schiele was effective in the use of formal strategies to reinforce the meaning of his paintings primarily base on color and composition. He used color to express the emotional state that he was in at the time he made the painting. The red color for his eyes represents hostility and the state of despair he as in. On the other hand, the composition, particularly on the skin, gives a sophisticated overview about his state of health and the stay in a turn environment. In most case, the color red is used to represent danger while an emaciated body is a representation of his poor health condition. Such aspect could not have been revealed if he used a plain color and thus the color was meant to convey a message to the viewers. The artist also used a grey color for the background of the painting put forth that the primary theme of the painting is in the subject in the foreground of the painting.

Due to Schiele’s recognition of an exemplary talent, his pieces of has have been at the received scholarships with respect to the Austrian Expressionism. Authors such as Jane Kallir have carried out extensive studies on Schiele’s artwork in a bit to better understand what made them stand out. In her study, she recognized his exemplary capabilities as an artist especially with regard to the strategy of evading a single meaning for his paintings. Through her study, she provided the reason why there exist conflicting interpretations about his artwork that requires the viewers to see instead of looking. Kallir adds to a group of other scholars who referred to Egon Schiele’s artwork while studying about the Austrian Expressionist movement in the early twentieth century. The artwork has also received a financial scholarship through the establishment of The Egon Schiele Documentation Centre in Leopold Museum situated in Vienna. The extensive archive at the museum was compiled together by Professor Rudolf Leopold. The museum has materials written by Schiele and literature concerning his artistic oeuvre together with another aspect of his life including the environment that he lives in.

Basing on the fact that Schiele’s were expressed more than one theme, it was open to conflicting interpretations. For instance, according to Gerald Ezenberg, his paintings brought out an aspect of European masculine identity that was aimed at undermining the sense of power and self-esteem among middle-class males which he his family belonged to. Such interpretations conflict with those of other scholars such as Claus-Christian Carbon who perceived them as a tool Schiele used to express his feelings and what he was going through during his lifetime. In such a case, the conflicting interpretations make the painting more interesting as it affirms that Schiele had an exemplary talent in art. The conflicting interpretations are attributed to the variation in perspectives among scholars relating to the purpose and the environment within which the paintings were created.

From a critical perspective, every aspect of the 1910 self-portrait communicates two messages. Firstly, the piece of art aimed to communicate about his loneliness. Schiele as financially abandoned by his family which left his with financial problems that he even struggled to pay his bills. Therefore, he concentrated on art in order to uplift his financial status but in the process, he fell into conflict with the society regarding the issue of nudity in creating his paintings. Consequently, this pushed him into a life of loneliness as he was not only abandoned by his family but also the Viennese society. The glowing eyes are a representation of the rage he had towards those who abandoned him while his emaciated body hand nothing to do with his fetishistic obsession with women but as a result of the suffering he was going through. On that note, the aspect of nudity in the painting was to expose to the viewers the suffering he was going through as a result of their actions. Secondly, his open disregard of the conservative Viennese societal norms was a way of being unique from the rest of other artists. The assertion is evident by the popularity that this and other pieces of art gained even after his death.

The work is engaged in the issues relating to social change. In most case, people are resistant to change in that they do not want to accept new ways of doing things on the basis that it goes against their cultural traditions and beliefs. However, from the fact that Schiele’s painting earned recognition despite being created in an environment that opposed the how the subjects were portrayed, it is evident that change in the society is inevitable. Social issues relating to morality are not just the most influenced but only it is where the society exhibits most resistance mainly because it touches on the religious beliefs.


Bassie, Ashley. 2014. Expressionism: Art of Century. New York: Confidential Concepts.

Carbon, Claus-Christian. “Universal principles of depicting oneself across the centuries: from renaissance self-portraits to selfie-photographs.” Frontiers in Psychology 8 (2017): 245.

Erbguth, Frank J. 2010. “Egon Schiele And Dystonia”. Neurological Disorders In Famous Artists – Part 3, 46-60. doi:10.1159/000311191.

Felton, Lori Anne. “Egon Schiele’s Double Self Portraiture.” (2015).

Izenberg, Gerald N. “Egon Schiele: Expressionist Art and Masculine Crisis.” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 26, no. 3 (2006): 462-483.

Leopold Museum. 2018. “Egon Schiele Documentation Centre | Research | Leopold Museum”. Leopoldmuseum.Org.

Mary, Chan. 2017. Egon Schiele : [Brochure] The Leopold Collection, Vienna : October 12, 1997- January 4, 1998, The Museum Of Modern Art, New York. Ebook. The Museum of Modern Art.

Selsdon, Esther, and Jeanette Zwingerberger. 2012. Egon Schiele. New York: Parkstone International.

THE ART STORY FOUNDATION. 2018. “Egon Schiele Biography, Art, And Analysis Of Works”. The Art Story.

Timpano, Nathan J. Constructing the Viennese Modern Body: Art, Hysteria, and the Puppet. Taylor & Francis, 2017.

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