EGON SCHIELE

Tulln an der Donau 1890–1918 Vienna

Young Woman leaning forward, her Head resting on her folded Hands (Adele Harms)

 

PENCIL

286 x 456 mm

PROVENANCE

Sale: Bern, Kornfeld und Klipstein, 10th June 1976 (sale no. 157), lot 909, where acquired by the father of the present owner

LITERATURE

J. Kallir, Egon Schiele. The Complete Works, including a Biography and a Catalogue Raisonné, New York and elsewhere, 1990, cat. no. 1915, illustrated 

 

Confidently delineated in pencil, this is a typical relatively late drawing by Egon Schiele and most likely portrays the artist’s sister-in-law, Adele Harms.[1] In style and subject matter our sheet relates to a group of female figures made in the last year of Schiele’s life, 1917-18.[2] Mostly realized in pencil or black crayon, these drawings focus on contours and speed of execution. By posing his models in contorted stances and observing them from unexpected angles, Schiele appropriated the theme of the female figure, nude or semi-nude, turning it into a modern subject. 

 

The last two years of Schiele’s life were marked by growing professional success, especially after the death of Gustav Klimt in 1918, which meant that he could finally enjoy his status as Austria’s most prominent artist. He could afford a studio and professional models, however, as Jane Kallir has remarked, ‘Schiele was at his best when depicting subjects he knew well, like Edith or her sister, Adele, who despite a strong resemblance had a more angular, less forgiving face.’[3]

 

After having been immortalized by Schiele in several paintings and drawings, his wife Edith became increasingly reluctant to pose nude. Conversely, Adele seems to have been an enthusiastic model and, to her own admission, one of the artist’s lovers. Adele’s distinctive features and sensuality in our drawing can be compared with other works datable to 1917, most strikingly with Reclining Woman with Green Stockings.[4] Also comparable is a photograph taken by Schiele at about the same time and showing Adele posing coquettishly on a chair.[5]

 

In our drawing, the young woman sits with her arms leaning forward against a support not included in the image, her hands joined together and her face gently resting on them. Her right leg is bent in front of her, and we can just about see the silhouette of her shoe, while her left leg is stretched behind her. Her corset leaves her shoulders and arms bare, and her gathered hair further attracts attention to her exposed back. Her averted gaze suggests introspection as well as a certain level of intimacy with the artist. 

 

While her facial expression may evoke distance and pensiveness, the way the figure takes up the full width of the sheet and is pushed up against the very foreground partly eliminates the distance between model and beholder, between subject and viewer. This visual ambivalence is detectable in a number of Schiele’s drawings of women, either professional models or intimate acquaintances, datable to the years 1917 and 1918. 

 

At once intimate and mysterious, this luminous sheet stands as a compelling example of the tragically short-lived artist’s mastery and love of the drawing medium. 

 

Anita Sganzerla

September 2020

NOTES

[1] We are grateful to Dr. Christian Bauer of the Schiele Museum, Tulln, for suggesting the identification of the sitter as Adele Harms, rather than as Schiele’s wife Edith, as previously proposed.

[2] Kallir, op. cit., cat. nos. D. 1916-1921.

[3] J. Kallir, Egon Schiele’s Women, Munich, 2012, p. 240.

[4] Private collection; gouache and black crayon on paper, 294 x 460 mm; Kallir, op. cit., cat. no. D. 1995.

[5] Kallir, op. cit., 2012, p. 260, fig 250.