“No erotic work of art is filth if it is artistically significant; it is only turned into filth through the beholder if he is filthy.”
This was the world of eroticism, according to Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918). Though his work was and is often rendered pornographic, Schiele’s paintings are more significant than smut.
A protégé of Gustav Klimt, the figurative artist and chronic provocateur's career is defined by fearless works of art exploring explicit sexuality and Schiele's obsession with mortality – a notion that isn't all that surprising given that the rebel's father died of syphilis when Schiele was 15.
With protruding ribs, elongated and alien-like limbs and deformed genitalia, Schiele’s nudes presented people, including himself, for how they really are when they are sexual – demonic and yet sensuous in their desires. This is why the artist has been so divisive, simultaneously making him one of art's most illustrious rebels and a victim of historic censorship.
The anti-hero's oeuvre is flaunted in a new book from German publishers TASCHEN in all its Expressionist glory. From Schiele's many nude self-portraits to explorations of nature's likeness to the human body, Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings 1909–1918 presents the Viennese artist's vast back-catalogue of the demented side of lust via his paintings, writings, poems and more.
While the revolutionary artist had an alternative, spiritual side in his work, the manner in which he captured animalistic desire is unrivaled. Schiele was one of the first artists to present sexuality in such a raw, carnal setting and with the intensity with which we actually experience sex.
Tobias G. Natter, an Austrian art historian and expert on art, explains in "Vienna around 1900,":
"Like no other early 20th-century artist, Schiele laid genitalia bare, bringing some of the most candid renderings of the vagina in Western art history, as well as scenes of masturbation and lesbian sex."
It's this morbid fascination with the explicit that keeps people admiring, and coming back to, Schiele's work decades after it was first composed.
Egon Schiele: The Complete Paintings 1909–1918 by Tobias G. Natter will be published on June 19 by TASCHEN.