This erotically charged rendering of a young woman in a state of undress demonstrates why Egon Schiele has been described as ‘one of the foremost draughtsmen of the twentieth century’ (H. Glück, ‘Art Events in Austria’, in Parnassus, vol. I, no. 2, 15 February 1929, p. 6). Intimately executed, this delicate, yet powerful, portrait is an example of the artist’s mature style which had been developing over a number of years, and which - in the months before this work was executed - resulted in a new-found confidence for the artist and the critical reception of his art. The First World War was coming to its inevitable conclusion and Vienna was on the verge of becoming one of Europe’s most exciting artistic and social centres, with Schiele at its heart.
Although dressed only in an unassuming combination of petticoat and stockings, Schiele’s anonymous figure still succeeds in exuding an aura of potent sexuality. His fluid line traces the silhouette of the figure's body, moving on to mark out her trim waist before recording her hips and stocking-clad legs. Unlike many of his more sexually explicit portraits, in Auf der Ferse sitzende Frau, Schiele manages to achieve a sense of heightened sexuality by partially leaving his subject’s clothes on. Thus the ruffles of the lacey garment and the stockings invite the viewer to imagine what tantalizingly might lie underneath. In the present work, with the absence of a face, Schiele concentrates on the delicate nature of the cloth with which he swaths the young woman’s body. The model for this work was most likely Schiele’s wife Edith, or perhaps his sister-in-law Adele Harms.
By 1917, when the present work was drawn, Schiele’s drawings of female figures openly attracted a wide audience, partly the result of a more tolerant moral climate near the end of the First World War, but also because of the artist’s more naturalistic treatment of his subjects. The nervously subjective line of the artist’s early style had yielded to a simpler, more classical and volumetric rendering of the figure, a pictorial trend that was also observable in the contemporary figurative work of Picasso in Paris and would soon spread throughout Europe as a post-war revival of neo-classicism. ‘Over the course of 1915,’ writes Jane Kallir, ‘the increasingly naturalistic line will hew ever closer to the shape of the subject, as the element of graphic stylization progressively recedes. This development yields smoother, cleaner contours… A very soft pencil line (sometimes mimicking charcoal) gives the lines new strength and sensuality' (J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, New York, 1990, p. 290).
The result is more intimate portraits, far less overt than his earlier work, but nonetheless still containing the open sexuality for which his work was becoming known. After years of struggling for recognition and sales, Schiele suddenly achieved well-deserved success as the First World War ground to its conclusion in 1918. In response to the harsh reality of news from the front and shortages at home, the Viennese appeared to have acquired a growing and more diverse taste for art, which, as a result of wartime inflation, had also suddenly become a desirable commodity. Gustav Klimt, who had dominated the avant-garde for two decades, would die in February 1918, and Schiele was poised to become his natural successor. Schiele’s contributions to the 49th Secession exhibition, which opened in March of 1918, practically amounted to a retrospective, taking up the central room of the hall, and all available works were sold within a few days of the opening. He soon became inundated by requests for portrait commissions, and offers from numerous new collectors to buy his drawings.
By this stage in his short career, Schiele’s sublime command over his materials required no help from the excessive gesture, distortion, or forced emphasis of his earlier work. In Auf der Ferse sitzende Frau, set against an empty background, Schiele’s crayon line magically brings to life an existential portrait of a female figure who seems born both to and from the page within which she is confined. This confidence is prevalent in the best of Schiele’s 1917 drawings and gouaches, especially the present work, where the contorted pose of the figure seems to have been wrought by an inner nature seeking to outwardly express itself through its bodily form.
EXCEPTIONAL WORKS FROM THE TRITON COLLECTION FOUNDATION
by Jussi Pylkkänen, Global President, Christie’s
Christie’s is honoured to be offering for sale a significant group of works from the Triton Collection Foundation, which continues to evolve and grow in new areas. The last major de-acquisition from the collection took place in our salerooms in Paris in March 2015 when the Exceptional Works on Paper from the Triton Collection Foundation sale elicited huge interest from collectors around the globe: Those works, which had been collected by Triton’s Founders over many years, saw spectacular prices for top quality pieces, such as Camille Pissarro’s Paysannes travaillant dans les champs, Pontoise, which sold for €1,381,500 against a pre-sale estimate of €250,000-350,000, further to numerous world records achieved for works on paper by artists such as Claude-Emile Schuffenecker, Paul-Elie Ranson and Frédéric Bazille. This strong market reaction is in recognition of the eye with which they had originally been selected.
Over many years the Foundation has considered public access to its works as a fundamental pillar of its collecting ethos. A continuous dialogue with curators around the world and an extensive loan programme to over seventy museums globally has made this dream a reality and benefited exhibitions at the likes of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, the Seoul Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art. These collaborations have ensured that an international audience has consistently had the opportunity to appreciate the quality and breadth of the collection, which stretches from classic Impressionism through to Surrealism and beyond to Post-War work by the major American artists. The sales of the major works in this season’s auctions will give the opportunity to the Foundation to continue its excellent, philanthropic work.
The group of works being sold across our Impressionist sales here in London includes seminal examples of French Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and the European avant-garde, from Claude Monet’s luminous Vétheuil of 1879 to Jan Toorop’s resonating symbolist 1902 composition, Faith and Reward. Each of these works has been bought with a very discerning eye, and often the provenances of the pieces are as noble as the works themselves. We wish the Foundation great success with these sales as well as their future projects.