After years of struggling for recognition and sales, Schiele suddenly achieved 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. The artist wrote to his friend Anton Peschka, "People are unbelievably interested in new art. Exhibitions--be they of conventional or new art--have never before been this crowded" (quoted in J. Kallir, Egon Schiele: Life and Work, New York, 2003, p. 217).
Gustav Klimt, who had dominated the avant-garde for two decades, died in February 1918, and Schiele was now widely viewed as his successor. Schiele's contributions to the 49th Secession exhibition, which opened in March, 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.
Schiele's drawings of female figures--both nude and semi-clothed, in overtly or ambiguously erotic poses--now attracted a wide audience, partly the result of a more tolerant moral climate near the end of the war, but also because of the artist's more naturalistic treatment of his subjects. The nervously subjective line of Schiele's early style had yielded to a simpler, more classical and volumetric rendering of the figure, a 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.
A bold and assertive drawing from 1918, Liegender Akt is a work that reflects the mastery of both subject and medium that Schiele had by this time attained in his work, as well as the new direction he was now taking in his art. The use of a thicker black crayon, in place of the nervous and tremulous pencil of his early works has allowed the artist to invest the figure with a stronger sense of physicality.