In this magnificent watercolor of two girls lying entwined together, Schiele captures that peculiar mixture of innocence, naiveté and sexual awareness that accompanies adolescence. The girls stare back at the viewer with startling and defiant looks of assurance that belie their age. Schiele was clearly fascinated with this transitionary stage in human development, seeing in it, rather like Frank Wedekind in his provocative play Spring's Awakening, a clear exposure of an instinctive and as yet unrepressed sexuality (fig. 1). Between 1910 and 1911 Schiele painted and drew young women with recurring frequency. He did so not merely because these were among the cheapest models to be found, but because their relaxed, unselfconscious and uninhibited behavior allowed him to observe the true nature of man stripped of all the regularity, pretense and convention Imperial Viennese society demanded (fig. 2). As his friend Paris von Gütersloh recalled of Schiele's working practice at this time: "There were always two or three smaller or larger girls in the studio; girls from the neighborhood, from the street, solicited in nearby Schönbrunn Park, some ugly, some attractive, some washed, but also some unwashed. They sat around doing nothing... Well, they slept, recovered from parental beatings, lolled about lazily (which they were not allowed to do at home), combed... their closely cropped or tangled hair, pulled their skirts up or down, tied or untied their shoelaces. And all this they did--if one can call that doing something--because they were left to themselves like animals in a comfortable cage, or so they perceived it... They feared nothing from the paper that lay next to Schiele on the sofa, and the young man was always playing with the pencil or the brush... Suddenly, although he didn't appear to have been paying attention at all, he would say very softly ... 'stop!' And now, as if under a spell of his magic, they froze as they were--lying, standing, kneeling, relaxing, tying or untying, pulling down or up, combing themselves or scratching themselves--as though they had been banished to timelessness or covered with lava, and then in a twinkling, brought back to life. That is the immortal moment in which the transitory is transformed into the eternity of art" (quoted in Gustav Klimt- Egon Schiele: Zum Gedächtnis ihres Todes vor 50 Jahren, exh. cat. Vienna; Graphische Sammlung Albertina, 1968).
Schiele painted numerous studies such of young girls during 1911. His friend, patron and biographer Arthur Roessler recalled "for months on end [Schiele] was occupied with drawing and painting working-class children. He was fascinated by the ravages of dirty sufferings to which these innocents are exposed...in amazement he saw the light-shy green eyes behind the red inflamed lids, the scrofulous wrists...and the souls inside these bad vessels' (in "Egon Schiele," Bildende Kunst, vol. I, no. 3,
1911, p. 114.).
In the present work, Schiele gives a glimpse into the interior and private world of these two girls, together in an intimate embrace that their expressions and adult faces suggest is not wholly innocent. Lesbianism, another taboo subject in fin-de-siècle Vienna, was also another aspect of human sexuality that fascinated Schiele at this time (fig. 3). Unlike other of his more provocative and explicit works on this theme, in this watercolor, it is the hint of it--the fact that it is an idea seemingly born only in the viewer's mind--that lends the work much of its mystery and haunting power.
The girls exude a gentle eroticism that is rooted in the fact that they are at the mercy of their inner nature and its physical drives. Observing them in this moment of intimacy and tender togetherness Schiele asserts through these two girls, the provocative power and naturalness of the sex-drive. Like Wedekind before him, this work reveals that "the flesh has its own spirit" but it also uses this revelation in an existential way to give an insight into the inner psychology of the human being. Like so many of Schiele's erotic works, this watercolor too shows the human being ultimately to be an impoverished and isolated creature trapped alone in its body and in desperate need of physical contact and communion with others.
(fig. 1) Oskar Kokoschka, Das Mädchen Li und ich (The Girl Li and I), from the series Die träumanden Knaben (The Dreaming Boys), 1908. Private collection, Zurich. BARCODE 06323059
(fig. 2) Egon Schiele, Zwei kleine Mädchen (Two Young Girls), 1911. Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna. BARCODE 06323066
(fig. 3) Egon Schiele, Zwei Mädchen (Liebespaar), 1911. Private collection. BARCODE 06322946