Two hundred and ninety eight

298

Two Women Embracing

1915 by Egon Schiele
Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Schiele was an Austrian born artist and a protégé of Gustav Klimt; indeed, looking at this drawing, there is no mistaking Klimt’s style of showing two figures in an intertwining embrace (see twenty-seven & twenty-eight). However Schiele was rather more notorious that Klimt in taking his protagonists a step further — taking off their clothes and twisting their figures into what was considered by some of his contemporaries into lewd and pornographic poses. Schiele was in fact taken to court in 1912 for what was initially an accusation for seduction (a model underage), but what turned into a seizure of hundreds of drawings; he was eventually, rather ironically, sentenced for exhibiting inappropriate drawings in a place ‘accessible’ to children. It is this ‘inappropriate’ element in Schiels’s work that allows his work to do something that perhaps Klimt’s never did, expose the rawness of passion and sexual lust. Looking at Klimt’s Embracing Lovers – Beethoven Frieze (twenty-seven), we see a naked couple embracing but, as in Klimt’s other work, it is an atmosphere of intense peace, a quiet love, between the two that arrests the viewer. Klimt’s dream like world, dotted with pattern and carrying away colour, has none of the intensity of animal attraction that Schiele captured in his inky lines that wander like eyes. The skin of his models has a depth that seeks to form their curves and life-like limbs — pink and yellowing with touch and caresses, Schiele’s drawn nudity blushes with life and lust. His lines are fluid and appear rippling, alive with movement; far from locked in an eternal embrace, as Klimt’s are, we are lead to imagine Schiels’s figures’ next move. As with many of Schiele’s ladies, this one looks directly at us, unashamedly fixing our gaze but with a careless nonchalance which we may gather mirrors Schiele’s approach to such subjects. It is this attitude that allows Schiele to paint and draw with such enthusiasm but rooted in reality; his work is passionate but with an honesty that is beautiful which halts any hint of the grotesque. Not that Schiele’s work didn’t aim to be just a little enterprisingly naughty — here of course we have two ladies embracing, one caught very decidedly between the other’s thighs.

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