Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden, 1915.

Maybe Egon Schiele was a bad egg, and maybe not. Maybe I watched too many Frankenstein movies as a kid, because whenever people get out the torches and pitchforks I find myself sympathizing with the “monster”. What if he’s just misunderstood? I tend to think it’s better to be the person weighing the stone in your hand and not hurling it, to err on the side of protecting the guilty rather than punishing the innocent.

We should all be grateful, I guess, that someone did the tedious sleuth-work and connected the dots for us, which we couldn’t have done ourselves — Egon Schiele was pervy! Now, if you go to a 100 year retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, there will be a placard explaining:

“Recently, Schiele has been mentioned in the context of sexual misconduct by artists, of the present and the past. This stems in part from specific charges (ultimately dropped as unfounded) of kidnapping and molestation.”

I know what I am supposed to take away from this, which is that Egon was a misogynist and we should probably boycott the museum for putting on a show of his immoral artwork. We should SHUT IT DOWN and put up a show of conceptual art, installation, video, and performance work by marginalized artists which deconstruct the systemic patriarchy, imperialism, and white supremacy of the art institution. We’ve heard it before, so you just need a short memory to know the rallying cries.

However, I can’t miss the literal meaning. The sign says the charges were unfounded. In another context I’d have read the same sign and thought it was about the public persecuting eccentric artists on false charges in order to to banish them, kinda’ like when 80 people signed a petition to remove Van Gogh from Arles shortly before he died. But I’m culturally aware enough, perhaps just barely, to recognize that in this instance the apparently false accusation is intended to herald the final demise of the artist.

Egon Schiele, 1914

As Russel Smith wrote in The Globe and Mail:

I suspect Schiele’s star will fall as attitudes toward lecherous art and artists change. In time, he will occupy a lesser space in museums. There are going to be fewer naked women in galleries generally, and fewer sexy Egon Schiele posters on undergraduate residence walls. The canon is not irremediably fixed, not written in stone; artists fall out of it and soar into it as the years go by.

Down with lusty artists! [Please consult the latest conclusions by social justice advocates as to what kind of sex is and isn’t OK before doing anything, assuming it’s OK to do anything.]

There are other charges against him. According to Smith’s article, He wasn’t arrested for sleeping with his 17-year-old model, Walburga Neuzil, when he was 20, but we know they lived together.” So, about 107 years ago an artist lived with a model fully three years younger than himself. This same girl had previously modeled for Gustave Klimt and was suspected to be one of his mistresses. I don’t know what the age of consent was in Austria back then, but today it’s 14 (I just looked it up). I think we’ve gotten better over time with raising the age of consent, so, I kinda’ doubt it was illegal for a 20 year old to sleep with a 17 year old in Austria 107 years ago. But, we can still punish the artist today! [Note that we are also going to have to SHUT DOWN KLIMPT!]

Gustave Klimpt & Egon Schiele, 1902.


And that brings us back to the story about the 13 year old girl. Though the charges were dropped, the artist was charged with “exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children”, which can just mean having anyone under a certain age in his studio at all.  How do we know that he wasn’t falsely accused for merely having teen-aged kids in his studio. According to Wikipedia, because his studio “was in the capital, [it] became a gathering place for Neulengbach’s delinquent children”. It is more than remotely possible that we are trying to destroy an artist’s reputation in 2018 because of false accusations made against him in 1911.

Mind you folks that I well know that women and girls have had a tough lot in this world and have been subjected to abuse and cruelties on all levels that men largely escape (though men get blown to bits in war, perish in coal mines, etc.). I’m against anything that subjugates, oppresses, harms, or belittles women. That should go without saying, but sometimes people assume the worst about you if you insist on compromise and holding your fire.

At the time of his arrest, the police had seized over a hundred of his drawings, and the judge burned one of them over a candle flame in court. In the past, we might have sided with the artist and railed against the pigs for confiscating his art and destroying a drawing. Today we side with the judge and clamor to burn them ourselves! [Here, if you don’t know what’s been going on of late in the art world, a sculpture by Sam Durant was destroyed, and there were demands to destroy a painting by Dana Schutz because they were determined to be unconsciously white supremacist…]

I’m not defending Schiele’s behavior. I have no idea whatsoever what it really was. I can’t imagine his life in another country in another century. If I were to accept the interpretation that I know I am supposed to – that he was a perverted misogynist – than I would find his behavior today to be offensive and boorish, if it did not indeed cross the line into illegal behavior. But I’m not comfortable judging someone who died a hundred years ago by contemporary standards. A person is largely a product of his or her time and place (though not entirely), and the outcry against Schiele is as predictable as was his behavior in his time.

I rather suspect in the future we will look back and think it was a bit over-the-top to place a placard on the wall of an artist’s 100 year retrospective denouncing him for a crime he was absolved of at the time. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe someone is innocent until proven guilty, not guilty even after being found innocent.

Egon Schiele – Self-Portrait with Physalis.

As for Smith’s prognosis that Schiele’s reputation is going to recede into oblivion, I’m as uncomfortable judging the future by today’s paradigm as I am the past. Schiele’s art has already survived a century, and the perhaps just a tad overzealous moral framework in which contemporary and classic artworks are censored, removed, and even destroyed may fall out of fashion much sooner.

I know this protest is supposed to be done in the name of progress and morality, but there’s just a whiff of something sinister about it, something 1984. That’s probably just my age speaking. I’m used to the liberalism that is about tolerance, freedom, giving people the benefit of the doubt, and protecting art. I think that’s now considered Fascist.

~ Ends

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18 replies on “Egg On Egon Schiele

  1. Hi, Eric.

    Boy do we have a bunch of shitheads trying to make all art serve them or disappear!? Thus it ever was. Even now that our slavemasters, the Ultra-Rich, have one of their own [if 3.1×10**9 bux qualifies] in the brown [4merly ‘White”] house we can still try to know the  truth. Thanks for speaking it.

    Y’r ol’ Bud, Fike [AKA Forrest Richey]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric,
    The Hey Hey chant just never gets old. If you can’t win an argument with facts just start the chant. Next thing you know you have a mob of people screaming at most likely the only sane person in the room.

    I’m pretty sure if we took anyone from 100 years ago or more we could come up with something about them to get them publicly condemned today. It must be nice to so squeaky clean, perfect, and knowledgeable that you can judge everyone who ever came before you.

    In the case of Schiele it’s even more of a stretch in the judgement of him since he was found innocent at the time. Maybe he has a gut feeling. I personally try not to let gut feelings guide my reasoning. Maybe that’s the way of the future. Religious priests, mystics, and seers will guide us once again. Hooray!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Matt.

      Right, you could find excuses to SHUT DOWN just about any artist up until this century, and even then we are doing our best to SHUT DOWN people like Chuck Close, Dana Schutz, Sam Durant, Cindy Sherman… and we are just getting started! How many of those French Impressionists and Post Impressionists used prostitutes? And the Re-Raphaelites as well? Surely they must all have said SOMETHING inappropriate to one of their models (often prostitutes) at some point. Manet has to GO! Lautrec? There’s gotta’ be some debauchery there!

      The critic accused Schiele of “lechery”. That just means “lust” or “excessive sexual desire”. So, even this F’ing white critic is against art on the grounds that it is too sexual. So much for sex, drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll. We are now about Prudery, Drudge, and Commercial Drivel. When did sex become the enemy of art?

      I got a threatening letter a while back telling me to “shut up” when I defended Schutz, and it was from a radical hate group whose manifesto was dedicated to ending white art. Picasso and Gauguin were mentioned in particular. So, I think we’ve reached a point where there are a lot of people who would celebrate if all the old “white male” art were removed from museums and not taught or shown anymore, by any and all means necessary!

      Art is no longer sacred. It is a PART OF THE PROBLEM!




  3. Hey Eric, unbelievable. For 49 years I’ve admired the work of Schiele his nothing short of brilliant especially for his time. These moralists who lack the vision to see and appreciate such unique talent need to be ignored for the sadly ignorant individuals they are. My message to them would be, “don’t try and control what I might like to see because you don’t.” Carry on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the way of revolutionary politics. You burn down the old stuff and prop yourself up in its place. It’s a quick way to the top! If you dig you’ll find that a lot of these protests are coming from artists themselves who are promoting their own work. The petition to destroy Dana Schutz’ painting of Emmett Till came from another artist. The woman behind taking down the Whitehouse “nymphs” was promoting her show. The art magazine Hyperallergic led the campaign to expose Chuck Close.

      I’m afraid that it’s “artists” who are behind a lot of this.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, wow. It’s one thing to use that language as a way to describe Schiele’s controversial personality, and a whole different thing to turn it into a warning… based on no solid evidence whatsoever.

    Lately I’ve been trying to reconcile my admiration for Gauguin’s Tahiti paintings with the fact that he “married” a 13 year old. I knew he was an ass, but those women he portrayed looked so much older to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being an artist myself I have enough respect for artists (in the same way as I teacher I understand teachers) to know I really don’t know what Gauguin’s experience was in the quotidian NOW of the time, what the experiential context was, and so on. It’s so easy to reduce a reality to a sentence that we can fit into a paradigm and express a conclusion about. I ain’t gonna’ judge him.

      It’s too easy for people today, for example, today that if they lived in the past they wouldn’t have owned slaves or wouldn’t have been a Nazi or wouldn’t have committed atrocities as a soldier in Vietnam. Once you put yourself in the same time and place, things change a lot, and then start adding up all the circumstances that produce someone’s actions. If you had Gauguin’s parents, his career, and so on. At the end you’d pretty much be him once all the circumstances were put together. This is where the question of free will comes into play.

      I’m a believer in free will, but I also know that circumstances are enormous factors, perhaps overwhelming. And I know in my own life that some people come up to conclusions about me that I find egregiously wrong and infuriatingly insulting.

      I wrote before (in my post about blogging for 5 years) about how if you want to understand what an artist was really like, Gauguin for example, the secret is to look at their art, which is to look at the universe through their eyes. And when I look at his art I don’t see an ass.

      But this does not excuse actual bad behavior, cruelty, exploiting or taking advantage of people, etc. But unless I am in very similar circumstances, have the same pressures, the same temptations available, and so on, I’m not really fit to judge someone. This is a bit like “cultural relativism”. So, for example, I can’t judge someone who was born into a cannibalistic tribe as a cannibalistic individual. In the same tribe, I’d be a cannibal, too. I can proclaim that cannibalism is absolutely wrong and horrific, and the practice should not exist, but I can’t judge an individual within a tribe that practices is as beneath me because of his or her actions. So, in effect, you can be a cannibal and not be an asshole, if that’s your tribe.

      Sorry for going off on the topic. It’s just something I’ve been mulling over for a while. I know you know this already, though you may or many not agree.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually agree with you. Genetics, the environment and circumstances play a major part in our lives and how we behave. It takes immense will power to change small habits, let alone our personality traits and deep inclinations. I don’t really care if Gauguin and other artists were obnoxious people (or cannibals!), as long as the art speaks for itself. And in Gauguin’s case I suddenly didn’t know whether I was looking at young sex slaves or at serene, grounded women. If I am to look at his art through his eyes, then I can remain as enchanted. After all, he did reinvent his surroundings through his paintings while in Tahiti. But I think that, generally, our experience of art is meeting halfway between the artist’s vision and our own interpretation.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. One of Gauguin’s relatives rejects the more uncharitable views of him, for what it’s worth:

        I’d really have to research it in depth to have an opinion other than knowing that I don’t know anything really about the man or his life other than what I get from his paintings. Stories about him take place in linguistics and are told by outsiders. They rarely raise above the level of communication of a newspaper article.

        When it comes to interpreting works, or accessing them, I always defer to the author. I don’t agree with the deconstructionists that the reader has more say so than the author when it comes to the meaning of a text.

        I don’t have to agree with or like a painting, piece of music, or poem, but I give full credence to the author for his or her own vision. The chance that I have a greater grasp of someone else’s art than they do, assuming it is any good, is infinitesimally small. I may as well tell a novelist or a philosopher what their book is really about.

        Probably the artists who I have studied the most are Van Gogh and Francis Bacon, and I am positive I don’t understand their work as well as they did. Part of it is that art is so subjective – not as in arbitrary or up for interpretation, but as in personal and idiosyncratic. To know their art more than they do I’d have to know them, and what it’s like to be them, better than they do. Nobody has a more intimate connection to the work of art than does the creator.

        A few critics wrote absolutely vicious character assaults on Francis Bacon after his death, for example, and imposed belittling and myopic interpretations on his work. It was disgusting. In fact I ripped it apart:

        There seems to be a penchant for demonizing artists, especially right NOW. I mentioned before that I’ve never seen a movie about an artist I liked until “Loving Vincent” came out. What a crashing bore that portrayal of Jackson Pollock was! You’d think the man had no sense of humor or social skills whatsoever.

        I have to ponder this some more. But, in short, I take condemnations of artists with a goodly helping of salt. Anything can be spun and blown out of proportion, and when there’s an inclination to do so that is only superficially moral, I’ll wait to see all the evidence before making a judgment.


  5. Great opening paragraph; pretty much nails it.

    I’m convinced that one of Americans’ favorite pastimes is to morally judge one another. I don’t think we can get through the week without getting out our measuring sticks and pulling dirt from the past.

    “I didn’t inhale”.

    And if I see the word “misogynistic” one more time, I’m gonna scream.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t care what Schiele did or did not do; his works are original and beautiful in the true sense of the word. If he did those paintings today they would still be just as powerful. And they will be just as powerful a hundred years from now. Look at Freud’s nudes and how they are rightfully lauded, and I’m betting they will be by future generations. At least those who don’t have their heads stuck up their self-righteous asses. People protesting and “all carrying signs that say hooray for our side” has become the national pastime.

    I paint nude figures and have done so my entire adult life and I won’t apologize to anyone for it. I’ve had galleries refuse to exhibit them; in one case after a painting was accepted in a juried show. My take on these moralizing assholes-fuck ’em! They ‘re worse than the Taliban. And if you’re worried about being politically correct, don’t be an artist.

    I’ve known women who loved Shiele’s work. Some were artists; all were real women. Do these other women ever consider that maybe we paint the female body because we think it is one of, if not, the most beautiful creations on earth.

    By the way, great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I pretty much agree. I don’t think artists should be absolved of having to live by the moral standards of the day, but I also don’t think they should be held up to a higher moral standard than everyone else in relation to the morals of the day.

      If you are dealing with real artists, on some level you start to be your own boss, so to speak, and your own thinker, and you have your own ideas about what is or isn’t moral, and so on. Morality is almost arbitrary at times. What is considered moral today wasn’t a few generations back. So, for example, Hillary Clinton’s take on gay marriage did an about flip when the society’s general moral outlook changed. And morality changes from one country to another, etc. You mentioned the Taliban, and, their morality is very different from the people who pressured the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to put up the placard.

      On top of that I don’t agree myself with today’s self-appointed, vigilante morality police, often coming out of the art institution, and being stricter than the letter of the law. I guess I’m much more about personal freedom and the ability of the individual to be whoever they want, because I still think if you aren’t breaking any laws there generally isn’t a problem. Artists are frequently not conformists, and like to explore and experiment both in their mediums and in their lives.

      Also, Egon died at 28. The things people are faulting him for he did when he was in his early 20’s. He died at 28 of a flu, 3 days after his wife. Today we ignore his contributions and find something, anything in order to destroy him, and elevate ourselves. This attack usually comes directly from the art world, from younger artists instructed in their art schools in Postmodernism and identity politics. In fact, one of the protesters is having herself photographed in front of sexist paintings nude(ish) as art. It’s self-promo. It’s kicking something off a pedestal and clamoring up onto it and putting the spotlight on oneself and screaming, “ME ME ME ME ME ME!”

      If we are going to talk about morality and ethics, I want to do it on a deeper, more philosophical level, not just finding any excuse – such as an accusation that was dismissed in court – to string someone up for.

      That said, if someone truly is sexually assaulting women then of course I’m going to be disgusted with them, and nobody is above the law just because of their calling.


  7. I agree. I certainly don’t condone sexual assault. I’ve never sexually harassed the models who posed for me. And I don’t look for a pat on the back for it. It just always seemed blatantly unfair to take advantage under those circumstances. You’re right that nobody is above the law, but if we discovered that Picasso or Van Gogh had murdered several people, would it change their work. No, only our opinion of them. The work would still have the same merit. There is a pretty nasty episode in Bernini’s life that changed my opinion of him, but not his sculpture.

    Part of the problem today is that many people, including some artists, don’t know how to look at paintings or understand them on a visual level. To try and give art meaning, they look at everything through a contemporary and often warped socio-political lens. Some woman in NY wanted the Met to take down a painting by Balthus that wasn’t even a nude, but showed a teenage girl sitting with her leg up. But a little bit of her knickers was showing. Oh the horror! Where does it end? Do we burn Manet’s Olympia? And how about the nudes by Titian, Giorgione,Goya and Velazquez. And why should only women have all the fun? Let’s get rid of all the depictions of the male nude. We can start with Michelangelo’s David. Let’s turn that offensive atrocity into marble dust. What’s with the little wiener on that thing? Is Mikey trying to say all guys have little wieners? Or maybe David just got out of the pool. And Caravaggio’s depictions of young boys in homo-erotic poses; get rid of them too-not that there’s anything wrong with it! Sorry, I couldn’t resist a second Seinfeld reference.

    I guess I’m just trying to say-judge the work on its visual merit. Hell, they even do that with Hitler’s water colors and that guy did some pretty nasty shit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for that. You hit a couple points that I think are really important, and I do happen to agree. One is that people are not visually literate. Sure, they are inundated with a glut of visual imagery, but they are not trained to analyze it or really enjoy it. It’s a passive over-exposure. People don’t get those surveys of Art History courses anymore that help them understand visual language. I go on a lot about this, but visual language is NOT the same thing as linguistics, but rather a checks and balances against it. It’s another form of communication altogether not using verbal structures. But you will find in the 20th century the word (linguistics) launched a war on visual communication and declared itself the winner in words. Art became a prop to initiate verbal language. You see, the purpose of visual art is to give people something to prattle on about in verbal language. Uuuuh, no!

      So, you are completely correct, in my mind, that people, instead of reading visual language properly, project their politics onto it. They make it mute, and then put their own damned captions on it, and call it a day.

      And I also agree with you that the art is separate from the morality of the artist as seen third hand, at best, and filtered through the morality of another time and geography. Even in one’s own time and country, morality is tricky shit, and on a personal, individual level it’s usually about constricting people’s behavior, curbing their free speech, and chopping off their mental extremities with a cookie cutter. I’m much more for holding politicians and corporations up to obvious and incontrovertible moral standards than interpreting an individual’s behavior with extreme bias from a remove.

      There’s an inclination to demonize and infantilize artists, which may come out of resentment or misunderstanding of creative individuals. Psychologists have discovered that most people don’t do a single creative thing in their lives, and truly creative individuals are a rarity. Therefor, when you have a strength, especially an unusual or esoteric one, people like to think it comes with some other staggering weaknesses.

      Have you read my article on immoral art? You might find a lot of interest there.:

      While I tend to be a highly moral person according to my own moral standards (which probably overlap with yours at least 75%), I am very suspicious of morality these days. The witch burners tortured and murdered their victims in the name of morality. Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia was supposed to be for some greater moral (as it were, Communist) good. So, when people start taking down art, and trying to crush artist’s careers, I’m looking at the effect and it’s making me question the morality of the moralists.

      But beyond all that, I see morality is relative, subjective, and artificial, differing from one culture to another. I see artists trying to free their minds, not shackle them to the foregone conclusions of their society, not being a pawn to illustrate art regurgitating the thoughts of others. And I just don’t know that in REALITY morality is really a “truth” the way we think it is. A moral and peaceful tribe would be defenseless against a marauding sinister and violent one. I abhor violence, but we can’t just be sheep and bare out throats.

      In short, reality is infinitely complex and answers are only signposts pointing in the right direction. We never arrive at the absolute truth: the search is always ongoing (also why painting is never dead). People who have all the answers, including the moral answers we hear today, have stopped searching and think their easy conclusions are real truths. BA HA HA HA HA. I wake up most every day contemplating the same questions and slowly uncovering a bit more truth, or perhaps going a bit more astray for another view. It is unimaginable to me that these hysterical moralists in their early 20’s are enforcing their absolutely truths in order to SHUT DOWN other people’s voices. It is about silencing others and blasting their message and agenda through a megaphone. Anyone who doesn’t agree with their conclusions must be SHUT DOWN (ex., Bernie Sanders).

      When a cultural revolution starts attacking art, it’s a sure sign it’s moving into an authoritarian and intolerant phase. And when people are afraid to speak the truth, or what they see as the truth, because they believe they will be persecuted for merely doing so, we can be sure something has gone terribly awry.

      Finally, I’d say moral standards are a general guideline, but I’d really have to look at individual circumstances and take all sorts of things into consideration to hope to be at all a fair judge of someone else’s character. It’s damned easy to be a judge when you are in an ivory tower and your own moral metal has not truly been tested.


  8. And here I thought visual illiterates was something I came up with. I mention the same thing on one of my posts.

    I’ll sum up my view on this morality thing. I think Nietzsche had it about right. Artists have to obey the same laws, but we live by our own morality, not society’s. If not, so much great art would not exist and that includes the literary gang (Ulysses, Tropic of Cancer, to name two). I’ll check out that other post. Maybe I’ll find something we disagree on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting Nietzsche quote. Thanks for sharing. And this reminds me of analogy I’ve been working on, which is that expecting art to be moral is like expecting philosophy to necessarily comes to conclusions about reality that support moral claims, or for science to only make discoveries which align themselves with our foregone moral conclusions.

      We may expect artists to behave morally in relation to the law, but nature is not moral, reality is not fair and just, and therefore we can’t expect — and I wouldn’t want — for artist’s creations (or philosophy) to only account for or contain what exists within the moral compass.

      You probably have read enough of my blog for now, but I discuss why the visual image still matters, and that it is another kind of language, in depth, in this article:



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