Jane Kallir has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Egon Schiele created Akt mit roten Strumpfbander in 1911, and this picture shows the changes in his aesthetic style and in his relationships with women that characterised this fulcrum period in his brief career. Akt mit roten Strumpfbander shows a women from the knees upwards; her arms have been ignored. Instead, the rose tints of her body dominate the composition, as does her face, which grounds the viewer in a penetrating gaze. The intense dark mop of her hair is thrust into bold relief by the light wash that has been placed, like a halo, around her head. This also accentuates the pulsing flickers of red that run through Schiele's depiction of her body, giving a visceral sense of flesh, blood and heat. Schiele's sense of colour is further augmented by the brown-red outlines to either side of the subject's body, which meander and flow with incredible assurance, adding to the resonances which are only augmented by the polychrome patchwork of material upon which she is lying. Akt mit roten Strumpfbander was formerly in the collection of Samuel G. Gallu, a playwright who was also a film and television producer and who owned a group of works by artists such as Schiele and Otto Dix.
The model in Akt mit roten Strumpfbander appears to be one of the two dark-haired female figures whose features recurred in a number of works from the end of 1910 to 1912, especially during 1911. Looking at Akt mit roten Strumpfbander, it is clear that there is a strong resemblance to the features of his Schwarzes Mädchen (Mädchen in Schwarz) of 1911, a painting that has even come to lend the girls the sobriquet the 'black-haired girls'. Of the two 'black-haired girls', the one in Akt mit roten Strumpfbander, with her large forehead, widely-spaced eyes and prominent lips, appears to have featured in a number of other works on her own, including a drawing on the verso. In addition, her features can be discerned in Schwarzhariger Mädchenakt, stehend of 1910, now in the collection of the Albertina, Vienna, and Mädchen mit schwarzem Haar of 1911 in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; both girls are shown together in Nude Girls Reclining in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The girl in Akt mit roten Strumpfbander seems to have been involved in a sexual relationship with Schiele, as recorded in a number of his drawings from the period showing them together in explicit positions.
That direct sexual involvement may have been one of the drivers for the new, more direct expression of sexuality that came to express itself in Schiele's pictures of the 'black-haired girl'. During the course of 1910, his depictions of the female nude had shifted in tone and in style: he had originally used his own sister, Gertrude (or 'Gerti') as a model, and those pictures appear imbued with awkwardness on the parts of both the artist and his subject, often expressed in the frenetic, anxious angularity of the lines that he used to delineate her features. During 1910, he had also begun to create pictures of nudes using pregnant women from the surgery of Erwin von Graff as his subjects. This exposure to pregnant women, to the consequences of sexual intercourse, to childbirth and indeed to its potential problems, introduced a more visceral reality to Schiele's nudes, or rather, a more visceral reaction on his own part, as though he were more involved with and invested in his subject matter. This can only have been accentuated by the fact that, during the course of 1910, Schiele himself appears to have been responsible for impregnating a woman, known only as 'L.A.', who went to Graff's clinic. It is unclear what treatment she received there, and whether she bore their child to term; however, this episode may have helped to guide Schiele's focus towards the theme of motherhood, which he tackled in a number of angst-ridden images introducing dead mothers or homunculus-like infants as subjects, including a picture featuring one of the 'black-haired girls'. This subject tapped into Schiele's fascination with Eros and Thanatos - sex and death.
Intriguingly, Schiele's bold treatment of sexuality in Akt mit roten Strumpfbander can be seen as a counterpart to Puberty, a painting by the Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. Schiele had seen, and responded to, a number of Munch's works during his career. In Puberty, Munch showed the young woman clutching herself, paralysed by self-consciousness while sitting awkwardly on a bed. Munch often depicted women as vampiric presences, sources of erotic fascination; in Puberty, he showed a girl almost paralysed by anxiety at the prospect of her entry to womanhood, with an ominous phallic shadow looming behind her. In Akt mit roten Strumpfbander, the self-consciousness of Munch's teenager is replaced by brazen self-awareness as the subject gazes up, flaunting her own body, perhaps even using it to taunt the viewer. Neither picture shows an artist at ease with the situation. While Akt mit roten Strumpfbander may lack some of the jumpy anxiety of the works from early in 1910, it nonetheless reveals a keen focus on flesh; at the same time, there is a jumpy energy to the swirling outlines, with the coloured material behind the body, that reveals a continuing lack of comfort on Schiele's part. He remains on edge, and this quality lends Akt mit roten Strumpfbander its incredible sense of directness: Schiele is channelling his own troubled feelings, which were themselves perhaps rooted in associations as diverse as a sense of Catholic guilt and the destructive power of syphilis, from which his father suffered, a poisoned family inheritance which resulted in the deaths, soon after birth, of four of the artist's siblings. As Schiele himself stated, 'I believe that man must suffer from sexual torture as long as he is capable of human feelings’ (Schiele, quoted in F. Whitford, Egon Schiele, London, 1981, p. 119).
It has been suggested that the 'black-haired girl' of Akt mit roten Strumpfbander and other pictures of the time may have been a prostitute whom Schiele had met in Vienna following his return from Krumau, where he had spent some time during 1910. Some have even speculated that she may even have been 'L.A.', the pregnant girl he abandoned in Graff's clinic. Another theory has it that these pictures show Valerie 'Wally' Neuzil, who would become Schiele's partner later in 1911 - despite the fact that he showed her with red hair, rather than this distinctive black mass. Certainly, Wally would come to be one of Schiele's most important muses and the source of much of the sexual content in his pictures during the following few years, marking a further move away from the more rigid images of Gerti from early in 1910.
Schiele's increasing sexual experience may have been one of the causes for the more flowing, undulating nature of Schiele's line in his drawings, as some of the rigidity of his earlier nudes, which combined a deliberate awkwardness with a Jugendstil idiom, was replaced by a more sensuous treatment of form. At the same time, Akt mit roten Strumpfbander also reveals the increasing skills that Schiele had developed in the use of watercolour and gouache, as well as his highly idiosyncratic sense of line. The reds and pinks in the subject's upper body and face have a billowing quality that reveals the artist taking advantage of the liquidity of his medium in order to add a feeling of flushed and stippled flesh. At the same time, he has judiciously allowed the lower half of her torso and her thighs to remain paler, bringing the viewer's attention all the more to the vivid red of her vagina and her garters.
Colour was an important focus for Schiele, and was more subjective than the observations of his initial drawings. Heinrich Benesch would note that 'An eraser was unknown to him... Schiele created his drawings only directly from nature... The colouring was always added from memory, without any model' (Benesch, quoted in A. Comini, Egon Schiele's Portraits, London, 1974, p. 66). This insight is all the more intriguing when one considers the colours within the picture's composition: the red zones - the lips, the nipples, the vagina and the garters - are all shown with a vivid intensity, linking them all explicitly, introducing a dimension of erotic geography. Schiele appears to be aggressively confronting sexuality, both in the woman, who so calmly gazes back, and in himself as the observer, the lover. This picture places sex at the centre, refusing to allow any of the glossing over of the more staid depictions of the nude celebrated by so many more conservative contemporaries. As Schiele himself so defiantly pointed out, '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’ (Schiele, quoted in Whitford, op. cit., 1981, p. 119).