Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Property from an Important New York Estate
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

Paar im Umarmung

Egon Schiele (1890-1918)
Paar im Umarmung
signed and dated 'EGON SCHIELE 1914' (lower right); with Nachlass stamp (on the reverse)
black Conté crayon on paper
19 ½ x 12 7/8 in. (49.7 x 32.6 cm.)
Drawn in 1914
Estate of the artist.
Kurt Rosegg, Vienna and Kansas City (by 1938).
Galerie St. Etienne, New York (acquired from the family of the above, 1982).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, January 1986.
J. Kallir, Viennese Design and the Wiener Werkstätte, exh. cat., Galerie St. Etienne, New York, 1986, p. 136 (illustrated, fig. 194).
J. Hobhouse, The Bride Stripped Bare: The Artist and the Female Nude in the Twentieth Century, New York, 1988, p. 69 (illustrated, pl. 57).
J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: in der Österreichischen Galerie in Wien, exh. cat., Galerie Welz, Salzburg, 1990, p. 34 (illustrated).
J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, Including a Biography and a Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1998, p. 543, no. 1676 (illustrated).
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Egon Schiele: Nudes, March-April 1994.

Lot Essay

Executed in 1914, Paar im Umarmung depicts a moment of sheer ecstasy between two unidentified lovers. Here, the couple melts into an intimate and singular embrace without context of time or space thus becoming the sole focus of the current composition. The jagged and abrupt nature of the present work captures the immediacy of this passionate moment—as the man’s fingers intertwine with the woman’s fitful curls, her tussled undergarments bunched in saw-tooth contours around her waist. The female’s direct gaze coupled with the pair’s provocative embrace suggest that Schiele drew upon similar illustrations prevalent in the popular erotica of the period. While a focus on such blatant sexual display reoccurs throughout the artist’s oeuvre, the compelling composition and distinctive draughtsmanship evident in Paar im Umarmung perfectly characterize the strides Schiele took in 1914-1915 to advance his work.
Alongside this striking composition, Schiele’s use of a “stitchlike” line evident in the woman’s arms and arch of her back can be traced to a specific period starting in February of 1914. Faced with a crippling debt of 2,500 kronen—equivalent to one year’s income for an average middle class family at the time—Schiele took up printmaking after strong encouragement by his patron Arthur Roessler to take advantage of the burgeoning market. This technique reoccurs frequently throughout the artist’s drawings and watercolors until his eventual draft to serve in the Austrian army in 1915. Jane Kallir even goes so far as to note that “it is impossible to determine whether the technique simply carried over into the etching media or rather evolved from it” (op. cit., 1998, p. 520). Schiele’s drawings took on a distinctively more erratic yet nevertheless subtly crafted composition during this momentous period adding a new tension to the artist’s work as witnessed in Paar im Umarmung.
Emphasized by the “stitched” line, the abstracted faces of both the male and female figures are dashed onto the page in only a handful of strokes. Like many of the artist’s works from this period, the “button eyes and stylization of nose and eyebrow (sometimes foregoing eyes entirely) make it difficult to identify Schiele’s models” (ibid., p. 520). While anonymous, the figures present in Paar im Umarmung furthermore point to a pivotal period in Schiele’s personal life that found the artist torn in his romantic relationships. In the brief span between 1914 and 1915, Schiele had forsaken his promiscuous, longtime companion Wally in favor of a more wholesome and socially respectable match that he found in his new neighbor Edith Harms. While neither Wally nor Edith have been definitively identified in the present work, the passion exhibited in this drawing clearly reveals an exceptional intimacy with the female model. Paar im Umarmung marks a significant period in Schiele’s meteoric yet brief career which found the artist pushing the boundaries of both his personal and artistic aspirations.

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