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    Sale 7562

    Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

    4 February 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 57

    Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

    Selbstbildnis, Kopf (recto); Porträt Hans Massmann (verso)

    Price Realised  

    Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
    Selbstbildnis, Kopf (recto); Porträt Hans Massmann (verso)
    signed with the initial and dated 'S.10.' (recto, centre left); signed and dated 'Schiele Egon 09' (verso, centre right)
    gouache, watercolour and charcoal on paper (recto); pencil on paper (verso)
    16¾ x 11 5/8 in. (42.6 x 29.6 cm.)
    Executed in 1910 (recto); Drawn in 1909 (verso)


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    'I see myself evaporating, exhaling ever more powerfully. The oscillations of my astral light are becoming quicker, more abrupt, simpler, resembling to a great understanding of the world. And so I keep on, always generating more, giving out this seemingly endless light from within me so that love, which is everything, which has given me this ability and which leads me to that which I am instinctively drawn, and to create new things from the new, things which I have nevertheless already seen. My being, my decaying, translated into abiding values, must have a compelling power over other well or better educated beings, like a religion that appears credible. The furthest will acknowledge me, they will look at and see me while my detractors will live under my hypnosis! I am so rich that I must give myself away' (Egon Schiele, 'Letter to Oskar Reichel', quoted in C.M. Nebehay, Egon Schiele 1890-1918 Leben, Briefe, Gedichte, Vienna, 1979, p. 184).

    Painted in 1910, Selbstbildnis, Kopf (Self-Portrait, Head) is one of an extensive series of self-portraits that rank among Schiele's finest achievements. The self-portraits that Schiele executed in this seminal year reflect not only how Schiele had assimilated the tradition of late Symbolism to use the figure as an expression of mood, but also mark a departure from that tradition towards a stronger, more psychological, intense and vital means of painting, now characterised as 'Expressionism'. 'I went by way of Klimt til March. Today I believe, I am his very opposite' Schiele wrote in a letter to Dr Josef Czermak in 1910. By this, he meant that the deeply psychological and introspective art he had now developed revealed the inner nature of man and the underside of the decorative Viennese façade which Klimt's work so brilliantly celebrated.

    At the forefront of Schiele's pioneering exploration of the inner nature of man, as it revealed and expressed itself on the outer surfaces of the face and body, was Schiele's almost compulsive self-portraiture. Possibly influenced by his friend Erwin Osen, a mime artist, and by 19th Century photographs of hysterics and mental patients, Schiele sought to explore, in his penetrating self-portraits, the formal language of the body as a material echo of the inner soul. In so doing, he developed and captured in paint an idiosyncratic and heightened form of facial expression and gesture, as a means of giving visual manifestation to his inner emotions. As Jane Kallir has written of these works, 'Here he puffs out his chest, there he pulls down an eyelid, and then again, his hair stands on end as though electrified by a high voltage shock. At one moment, he basks in newfound sexual potency, the next he is horrified by his physical desires. Now he struts forward, and then again, he pulls back in evident terror. Haunted by death, yet driven by a passion for life, Schiele in these works reveals both vulnerability and bravado. It is here, above all that his dualism - his ability to embody contradictions - is most eloquently expressed' (Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele, New York, 1994, p. 75).

    Only twenty years old at the time of these works, Schiele captures in them all the emotional turbulence of adolescence, and lays it bare before the viewer. In his self-portraits he is always simultaneously aware of himself as both the object and subject of the picture. These self-portraits were for Schiele not merely a cast of personal characters that emerged from his own psyche, but also, when given form in this way, visual guides to self-understanding. This endless narcissistic posturing and self-introspection would be hard to stomach, were it not for the raw honesty with which Schiele observes and portrays himself. Depicting himself against a blank infinite background, there is an existential quality to these works that heightens the vitality of the human figure and emphasises it as a material embodiment of spirit.

    Selbstbildnis Kopf depicts only the head of Schiele, his raised forehead, spiky electrified hair and radiant white silhouette, all displaying the charged energy behind his ferociously intent gaze. In this work, as he was to do in several of his self-portrait oils of 1911, Schiele depicts himself as an almost mystical apparition, radiating astral energy. Like the prophets, mystics and doubles of these paintings, Schiele's lone head, with its fierce concentrated gaze, seems to emanate from the page in this work like the lone head of Christ on Saint Veronica's shroud. Such is the vitality and pictorial drama generated by this painted head that, as Schiele must have recognised, there is no need to depict the body. The force of Schiele's face is strong enough to dissolve the rest of the picture into irrelevance. It is in works like this that Schiele demonstrates that his art is not portraiture in the conventional sense, but a study and representation of man's inner life. 'I paint the light that comes out of all bodies' (Egon Schiele, Letter to Leopold Czihaczek, 1 Sept. 1911).

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    Provenance

    Anonymous sale, Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett, R.N. Ketterer, Stuttgart, 26-27 November 1957, lot 942.
    Viktor Fogarassy, Graz.
    Serge Sabarsky, New York.
    Private collection, New York.
    Gift from the above to the present owner.


    Pre-Lot Text

    'How lovely' Egon Schiele wrote in one of his poems, 'Alles ist lebend tot (Everything that lives is dying)'. This was an existential revelation that Schiele evidently felt very keenly, for it lies at the heart of much of his deeply psychological art. A draughtsman of genius, who, from an early age, developed the ability to render even the most ordinary objects in an expressive way using only outline, Schiele sought in his work to explore the essence of human existence through a purely graphic investigation of the forms of the world around him. Whether he was painting or drawing flowers, religious allegory, landscapes, towns or lone buildings, the subject of his art was always the same: the inner life and nature of man. Towards this end, Schiele's predominant subject was, of course, the human figure, and in particular his own 'self'.

    Schiele's art abounds with images of lone individuals boldly isolated against empty pages and painted voids. Not one is a generic type or symbol. Schiele, unlike so many of his contemporaries, did not seek to express an idealised human form, be it the raw and primal children of nature championed by the Brücke artists, or the semi-divine beauty defined by the figures of his one-time mentor Gustav Klimt. The people who gaze back at us from Schiele's paintings and drawings are manifestly unique individuals, often extremely so, grimacing and contorting their faces and bodies, dreaming or playing with themselves in a world of their own, often openly engaging us with their focused outward stares. Such was Schiele's facility with line, that he was able to describe every foible, feature, idiosyncrasy or defect of his subjects with such precision, that their fierce individuality also comes to seem fragile, precious and even vulnerable, when set against the impersonal void of his empty backgrounds.

    A pervasive sense of isolation is one of the common threads running through all of Schiele's art. It was how he himself felt. Ostracised from his family - a dead father, whom he missed, and a mother and step-father who disapproved of his seeking a career in art - Schiele also felt himself alone amongst most of his fellow artists, and the repressive and conservative atmosphere of Imperial Vienna. It is perhaps for this reason that his work, often vilified in his own time, still speaks so eloquently today and was certainly the reason why so many of his patrons, fearful of their own status and identity at the time, were Jewish. Cracking under the strain of the impending decay of its empire, Vienna at the beginning of the Twentieth Century was the most repressive of all European capitals, a virtual police state. Racked with division and riddled with anti-Semitism, it was, as Karl Krauss so pertinently described it, 'an isolation cell in which one is allowed to scream'.

    In many ways, Schiele's art is the pictorial equivalent of this sentiment. Like much Expressionist art, it is partly a scream of identity and revolt - a self-assertion against a hostile and alien world and a protestation of rights. But Schiele was not seeking to remake the world, as many Expressionists were, rather to observe it in all its fascinating and even ugly glory. A master of outline, it is the housing, the 'isolation cell' itself, in which the scream - a primal force of nature seeking union with the eternal - takes place and is confined, that obsessed him. Maintaining faith with the practice of drawing from nature, at a time when so many of his contemporaries were seeking inspiration in the abstractions of cubism, colour theory and primitive art, Schiele was drawn to the figure of man as both an imprisoning cage of the spirit and as a material manifestation of it. In the same way that what he called the 'red-black cathedral' of rotting vegetation in a pine forest had revealed to him the ever-presence of death within life, the human body showed itself to him in a non-religious, even existential way, to be a temple seemingly imprisoning the powerful drives of nature. These were forces that, as Sigmund Freud had divined in his studies of the Viennese psyche around the turn of the century, were beginning to effect serious cracks in the respectable façade of Imperial Viennese life, revealing often ugly, dirty and disturbing truths beneath its surface. As the slightly robotic contortions and often pathological expressions and grimaces of Schiele's figures witness, his art in many ways offers a visual parallel to Freud's vision of the neuroses of modern man, and for both men, the prime motivating energy at work here was sex.

    'I paint the light that comes out of all bodies - Erotic works of art are sacred' Schiele once wrote to his step-father Leopold Czihaczek, no doubt in an attempt to explain the fundamental connection in his work, between such seemingly innocuous imagery as a lone tree struggling to grow and define itself against a vast empty sky, and the more shocking and sexually explicit images in his work. As his assertion that 'Alles ist lebend tot' indicates, Schiele, who may also have been influenced by the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche in this respect, understood life to be entirely defined by the twin forces of sex and death (Eros and Thanatos). His belief in the inherent 'sacredness' of the sex-drive was, of course, not shared by the majority of his contemporaries and repeatedly landed him in trouble. The most notable scandal was his twenty-four days imprisonment in Neulengbach, on a charge of propagating pornography and of corrupting a minor. While he often complained and lamented his misfortune - his self-pitying prison journal being a case in point - Schiele was never one to bow to it. Deeply shaken by what he considered to be the crude and ignoble way he had been treated by the Neulengbach authorities, his response to this incident was typical. He painted a large oil, reasserting his belief in the omnipotence of Eros: The Cardinal and the Nun of 1912. A red and black cathedral of form paraphrasing Klimt's epic painting The Kiss, Schiele paraded in this work the triumph of the sex drive over all the repressive strictures of the establishment, by presenting a cardinal and a nun forming a religious tower of love.

    While today this work in particular has lost much of its power to affront, a great many of Schiele's works, especially his drawings and watercolours, which form the core of his oeuvre, remain remarkably modern looking and some still remain shocking. The modernity of Schiele's vision is partly a result of the psychological intensity and the sense of existential isolation that permeate his work. In addition, his art is also in essence very minimal, concerning itself with and presenting only fundamentals, seldom the sumptuous irrelevant detail for which, for example, Secessionist art was so well known. Such minimalism, combined with the grittiness of Schiele's earthy, objective and strongly existential way of looking and rendering, was a part of his and other modernist artists' revolt against the innate lie and hypocrisy of decoration. Nevertheless, the apparently all-seeing objectivity that Schiele's passionate eye brings to his subjects often bestows on them a quality of timelessness rendering them disturbingly contemporary. In the same way that he anthropomorphosised the natural world in his paintings of 'dead cities', lone trees and plants, making them seem expressive of human struggle and emotion, Schiele also naturalised man, representing him too as a force of nature. His drawings in particular, with their unique individual portraits captured in detail and rendered isolated on a blank page can seem like botanical specimens forming a compendium of natural history that catalogues the unique humanity of his time. This aspect of his work is made all the more poignant by the fact that Schiele's art documents a now forever lost era - one that died at the same time he did. The faces of Wally, Edith or Moa, of his friends Arthur Roessler and Erich Lederer and of the Viennese families he knew and lived among, look out today from his work with a freshness and vitality that speak so powerfully of the fragility and preciousness of humanity, that it can be unnerving.
    Robert Brown





    SOLD TO BENEFIT THE NEUE GALERIE NEW YORK


    Literature

    A. Comini, Egon Schiele's Portraits, Berkeley, 1974 (illustrated fig. 65).
    S. Wilson, Egon Schiele, Ithaca, 1980 (illustrated pl. 19).
    J.C. Allmayer-Beck, Marksteine der Moderne: Österreichs Beitrag zur Kultur - und Geistesgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1980, p. 5.
    K. Senji, Egon Schiele, Japan, 1984 (illustrated p. 51).
    E. Friesenbiller, Egon Schiele "Ich ewiges Kind": Gedichte, Vienna and Munich, 1985, p. 1.
    C. Nebehay, Egon Schiele: Von der Skizze zum Bild, Vienna and Munich, 1989 (illustrated fig. 1).
    C. Nebehay, Egon Schiele. Sketchbooks, New York, 1989 (illustrated p. 7).
    J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, London, 1998, no. 714 (recto, illustrated p. 429), no. 313 (verso, illustrated p. 383).
    Exh. cat., Vincent van Gogh and Expressionism, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, November - March 2007 (illustrated p. 118).


    Exhibited

    Bregenz, Künstlerhaus Palais Thurn and Taxis, Jugendstill - Wiener Secession, July - September 1971, no. 152.
    Lucerne, Kunstmuseum, Kunst in Österreich 1900-1930, July - September 1974, no. 223.
    Munich, Haus der Kunst, Egon Schiele, February - March 1975, no. 88 (illustrated).
    Tokyo, Isetan Museum, Egon Schiele und Wien zur Jahnhundertwende, March - April 1986, no. 31 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum, April 1986; Nara, Prefectural Museum, May - June 1986; Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefectural Museum, July - August 1986 and Kamakura, Museum of Art, September - November 1986.
    Rosenheim, Städtische Galerie Rosenheim, Egon Schiele: 100 Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, May - June 1988, no. 19; this exhibition later travelled to Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, June - August 1988; Herford, Kunstverein im Daniel-Pöppelmann-Haus, September - October 1988; Leverkusen, Erholungshaus der Bayer A.G., October - November 1988; Hoechst/Frankfurt, Jahrhunderthalle, November 1988 - January 1989; Bari, Castello Svevo, January - March 1989; Genoa, Museo Villa Croce, April - June 1989; Roslyn, Nassau County Museum of Art, January - April 1990; Linz, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum, September - December 1990; Milan, Palazzo della Permanente, May - June 1991, no. 27; Bietigheim-Bissingen, Städtische Galerie, July - September 1991; Berlin, Käthe-Kollwitzs-Museum, October 1991 - March 1992; Passau, Museum moderner Kunst, March - May 1992; Ulm, Museum, June - August 1992; Prague, Palais Wallenstein, October - November 1992; Paris, Musée-Galerie de la Seita, December 1992 - February 1993; Vienna, BAWAG Foundation, March - May 1993, no. 33; Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet, June - August 1993, no. 30; Albi, Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, October - December 1993, no. 30; Lisbon, Culturgest, December - February 1994, no. 30; Aschaffengurg, Stadt Aschaffenberg/Galerie Jesuitenkirche, April - June 1994, no. 30 and Blumeninsel Mainau, Schloss Mainau, September - November 1994, no. 30. Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Egon Schiele, February - May 1995, no. 70.
    Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, May - August 1995, no. 131.
    Bad Frankenhausen, Panorama Museum, Egon Schiele: 100 Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, November - February 1996, no. 29; this exhibition later travelled to New York, The Serge Sabarsky Foundation, June 1996; Klagenfurt, Städtische Galerie Klagenfurt, July - September 1996; Cracow, International Cultural Centre, December 1996 - January 1997 and Ljubljana, Cankarjev Dom Fine Art Gallery CD, April - June 1997.
    Frankfurt, Jahrhunderthalle Hoechst, Hommage à Serge Sabarsky. Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele. Acquarelle und Zeichnungen, October - November 1997, no. 67.
    New York, Neue Galerie, Egon Schiele: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serge Sabarsky Collections, October 2005 - February 2006, no. D61 (illustrated p. 240).