The present work is being offered for sale pursuant to a settlement agreement between the consignor and the Grünbaum Heirs. This resolves any dispute over ownership of the work and title will pass to the buyer.
During the year 1910, Schiele–then only 20 years old–created his famously radical figure compositions and self-portraits, unprecedented works which proclaim his breakthrough to a distinctively personal style, while revealing the essential qualities that would define his artistic maturity. He abruptly divested his work of Jugendstil decoration and ornament, a mainstay of his painting only the year before. "I went through Klimt until March,” Schiele wrote in a letter of 1910. “Today I believe I am someone completely different" (quoted in Leopold Museum, Vienna, ed., Egon Schiele Letters and Poems 1910-1912, Munich, 2008, p. 57).
This miraculous metamorphosis bore fruit in Schiele’s land- and townscape paintings as well. Jane Kallir lists ten such significant oils and gouaches painted in 1910 (Kallir, nos. 178-179 and 181-188). The present landscape is one of only three outdoor subjects executed that year in non-opaque watercolor; the other two are views of building facades (Kallir, nos. 740-741). Having flayed the human figure virtually down to the bone, Schiele likewise pared the landscape to its most essential elements. Schiele allowed his fluid colors loose rein, barely contained within a skeletal framework of quickly drawn but unerringly succinct lines. This composition evinces a startling vertiginous conception of distance and space, stacked vertically in the flat modernist manner.
Schiele decamped in May 1910 to the medieval Bohemian town of Krumau on the Moldau river–today called Ceský Krumlov on the Vltava in the Czech Republic. Krumau was well-known to Schiele; it was the birthplace of his mother Marie (née Soukup). After spending the winter in a new Vienna studio, he returned to the town in the early spring of 1911. Continuing to work from motifs in the vicinity, Schiele treated Krumau as a surrogate mise-en-scène in which he could evoke the “black shadows” of Vienna, while creating his ghostly vision of die tote Stadt–the “Dead City.”
Schiele visualized his “colorful fields” in Stadt am blauen Fluss from a bluff overlooking the Moldau, gazing toward a bend in the river on the eastern outskirts of Krumau. The road running parallel to the water, the various building sites and natural features in this scene are viewable on Google Maps. The precipitously tilted aspect of the landscape, however–seen as if Schiele were piloting an early flying machine–is entirely the artist’s invention, and lends the scene its unsettling spatial tensions. The pulsing vein of the Moldau appears to issue forth from a black void–the dark foliage on rocky hillsides that rise from the river bank–then cascades down the sheet; the landscape appears to fracture and break apart in some seismic upheaval. “My promenade leads me over the abyss,” Schiele wrote (quoted in ibid., frontispiece), as he plunged headlong into the expressionist void during 1910, his first year of painting dangerously, in one of the most stunning transformations of subjective emotion and style to have been achieved anywhere in all 20th century painting.