Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf

Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf
signed and dated 'EGON SCHIELE 1918' (lower centre)
charcoal on paper
18 3/8 x 11¾ in. (46.5 x 29.5 cm.)
Drawn in 1918
(possibly) The artist's estate (with the Nachlass stamp on the reverse).
(possibly) Melanie Schiele Schuster (the artist's sister), Vienna.
Rudolf Leopold, Vienna.
Galerie Welz, Salzburg.
Vance Kondon, London, San Diego and Amsterdam, and thence by descent to the present owner.
J. Kallir, Egon Schiele, The Complete Works, New York, 1998, no. 2243, p. 611 (illustrated).

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Cornelia Svedman
Cornelia Svedman

Lot Essay

In October 1918, three days after his wife Edith died of Spanish flu, Egon Schiele drew his last breath. He was only twenty-eight at the time. Part of a series of six drawings on this subject (Kallir 2239-2244), Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf therefore ranks among the last works completed by the artist.

The years 1917-1918 had been incredibly successful for the artist. At the 1918 Secession exhibition, his works virtually sold-out and by October he had received fourteen new portrait commissions. He was by then widely regarded as the most prominent Viennese artist and his wife Edith was expecting the couple's first child. Unsurprisingly, that year was one of the most prolific of his entire career.

During that same period, Schiele's drawings acquired an unprecedented degree of mastery. In Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf, the female body is captured with a few uninterrupted lines. Schiele renounced the flaring colours of his earlier works on paper, concentrating instead on the single contour, pushing the boundaries of the graphic line to their limits. Despite this elegant economy of means, Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf expresses the voluptuous volume of the model's thighs, the pressure of her hand between her legs and the tension of her back, arching with pleasure.

Schiele probably sketched Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf holding his paper horizontally. His signature, however, invites the viewer to behold the work vertically, forcing us to press our gaze - as much as the model's hand is doing - on the female sex. Just as the viewer is drawn into the picture, Schiele asserts the distance from the subject. With her head cropped, the female figure is deprived of name, identity and context. In one sense, this marks Schiele's objectification. At the same time, placed in this universal frame, she cannot be possessed. Elusive, she has become a modern woman, owning and controlling her sexuality.

While in the artist's early works, women appeared as haunting and threatening creatures, in Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf the scene is portrayed with sympathetic frankness. Situated at the end of Schiele's fulminating career, Masturbierende Frau ohne Kopf captures not only his artistic maturity, but perhaps also his entrance into the world of manhood, leaving the tumultuous discovery of sexuality of his youth and early works behind him.

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