Executed in 1918, Liegender Akt is a work of Schiele's most mature style, that uses thick pencil and a smooth, fluid and commanding line, devoid of the nervous intensity and Expressionist fervour of his earlier work in order to convey a complete and convincing vision of the female nude. From 1916 onwards Schiele had progressively refined his prodigious gifts as a draughtsman into an increasingly simple and more classical style. At first, he adopted a thick black crayon which removed the spidery lines and neurotic febrile expression of his great early drawings, and later he replaced this with an equally blunt use of black charcoal. In works such as Liegender Akt, in 1918, Schiele returned once more to pencil, though he used a thicker, blunter instrument with which, as can be seen here, he developed an almost miraculous ability, equal only to that of an artist such as Matisse, to define in one, simple flowing outline, the volume, weight and contours of the human form.
Accompanying this refinement in his style, the intrinsic nature of Schiele's whole approach to the nude also became more refined after 1916. In contrast to the earlier psychologically-probing, sexually-fixated, neurotic and undernourished nudes he had made of street children, prostitutes, and other casual models - all so often rendered in the morbid autumnal colours of the 'living-dead' state of melancholy that Schiele then liked to revel in - the later nudes tend to be more complete, holistic images of healthy human figures. One of the main reasons for this is that following his marriage to Edith Harms in 1915 and his growing recognition and increasing financial stability, Schiele was able, by 1917, to employ professional models in addition to Edith and her sister Adele who also often posed for him. Alongside the healthier physiques of these models, Schiele's interest also seemed to have developed towards the depiction of women as more complete beings. In contrast to his earlier vampiric and anonymous waifs, whom he often showed as little more than fragile human vessels encasing the fierce and primal energy of the sex-drive, Schiele now depicted the nude female in a less sexual and more sympathetic, almost reverential way. Many of his later broad-outline drawings depict the female figure as an holistic and almost mystical figure. Maternal, fertile and mysterious in their gentle and more subtle sexuality, these more muted depictions of the erotic female are more convincing in their naturalness and in the magical way in which they reflect, often solely through the articulation of the body, a unique and individual character or personality.
These characteristics owe much to Schiele's domestic situation. Since his happy marriage to Edith, the nervosity and aggressiveness of Schiele's art had all but vanished. Indeed, at the time that Schiele made Liegender Akt the artist was not only in the prime of his life but also enjoying for the first time a hitherto unprecedented degree of success. In February 1918, Schiele's former mentor and the leading Austrian artist in Vienna, Gustav Klimt, died of the Spanish influenza epidemic sweeping Europe. In the absence of Kokoschka, who was lying wounded in Dresden, Schiele, suddenly found himself as the leading artist in Vienna. As if to reiterate this new status, the Viennese Secession invited Schiele to be the major participant of its forty-ninth annual exhibition. Schiele, recognizing the honour, designed the poster for this exhibition and exhibited nineteen paintings and twenty-nine drawings. He also received enthusiastic reviews for more or less the first time in his life and many of his paintings sold. This prosperity, allied to his family happiness, was compounded when Edith announced her pregnancy. All these events evidently played their part in the maturation and mellowing of Schiele's style that took place in 1918. It was tragically, a style that was to be short-lived, for in October Edith Schiele, six months pregnant, died of Spanish influenza, and three days afterwards Schiele himself succumbed to the same illness. One month later, with the Armistice, the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself also ceased to be. These last drawings that Schiele made, in what was for him, the relatively happy year of 1918, can truly be said to mark the end of an era.