The Paris Review

Rethinking Schiele

The passage of time tends to either confirm the supposed transgressions of historical figures, or absolve them thereof. But Egon Schiele, whose centenary is being celebrated at museums across the world, presents a particular lens through which to think about the line between art and exploitation.

Egon Schiele. Standing Female Nude with Blue Cloth, 1914. [Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. Picture: © Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg]

 

Egon Schiele first began hosting teenage girls at his studio in Neulengbach, Austria, around 1910. About thirty miles from Vienna, he had a small painting studio with a garden out back. Boys and girls, often from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, would come spend time there with him and his model-slash-lover Walburga Neuzil, whom he called Wally. Schiele was only twenty at the time. Wally was seventeen. The age of consent in Austria was fourteen (as it is today), and their relationship wasn’t much of a scandal. What was a scandal was Schiele’s painting the children and teenagers who came by his studio and, as would be written in his arrest warrant two years later, his “failing to keep erotic nudes in a sufficiently safe place”—that is, exposing these young people to his supposedly pornographic paintings and drawings.

In April 1912, Schiele was arrested and accused of “seducing” Tatjana Georgette Anna von Mossig. Mossig, a thirteen-year-old girl from Neulengbach whose father was an esteemed naval officer, had asked Schiele and Neuzil to take her to Vienna to live with her grandmother. Like many young people, she wanted to escape her provincial town. The artist and his lover agreed to take her, but once they

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