Executed in 1911, Sitzendes Mädchen mit schwarzen Strümpfen und vorgehaltenen Händen (Seated Girl with Black Stockings, Her Hands Raised) is an accomplished watercolour belonging to an extraordinarily fertile and exploratory period in Schiele's art, when many of his finest works were made. The nude had not featured significantly in Schiele's work prior to 1910, but from this year onwards it would play a central role in his art, indicating his own maturing virility. Fascinated by the expressive power of the human body to provoke and articulate emotion in the viewer, Schiele began to explore the body as a unique manifestation of nature's life-force.
The metamorphosis that took place in Schiele's work at this time is linked to the artist's growing sense of self-awareness and personal independence, coupled with the assimilation of new and vital stylistic influences. Schiele left the Vienna Academy in 1909 and participated in the great international Kunstschau of the Klimt group that year, where he had viewed works by van Gogh, Edward Munch and Oskar Kokoschka; artists whose Expressionism provided a powerfully fresh alternative to the refined elegance of the Jugendstil.
Following the example of both Klimt and Kokoschka, Schiele also drew inspiration from the Symbolist sculpture of George Minne, whose figure of a thin kneeling youth embodied the new artistic ideal of man made anxious by his body and his instincts. Minne's influence can be observed in the present depiction of a young girl, whose crossed arms echo the elegiac pose of the Belgian's androgynous sculpture.
Sitzendes Mädchen mit schwarzen Strümpfen und vorgehaltenen Händen represents a continuation and consolidation of the stylistic breakthrough Schiele had achieved in 1910. It was during this time that Schiele developed his expressively febrile but unerring line, which he uses to enclose accents of colour. This remarkably fresh and bold example of Schiele's experimentation with watercolour and gouache displays the painter's shift in palette from the bright, acid hues of 1910 towards a preference for dusky mauves, crimsons and deep blues. Executed on a larger than usual sheet of white paper, this composition reveals Schiele's new command of wet-on-wet watercolour technique, with which he creates subtle tonal variations in the model's skin and hair. As with many of his drawings throughout 1910-11, Schiele has applied a brilliant white 'halo' of opaque heightener around the figure to intensify the psychological impact of his subject. Radiating from the model like a shimmering current of electric light, the white halo echoes the mysterious auras believed by contemporary Theosophists and spiritualists to be discernible to trained and perceptive seers. Schiele often used this essentially abstract pictorial device in his early watercolours not only as a means of conveying energy, but also as a way of isolating his figures on the page and rendering them more complete, individual and distinct.
This work displays the greater interest Schiele began to take in the pictorial background of his watercolours at this time, often using blankets, clothing and other supporting structures to augment the nude figure's placement on the sheet. By contrasting the soft contours of the model's bright body against the gesturally painted and richly coloured trapezoid 'pillows' behind, Schiele not only anchors the figure in the expanse of white space but also brings central focus to her sex, which he further emphasizes with red pigment. Schiele believed that sexuality was the driving force of all existence, and amidst the strict moral codes and sexual repression of his age, he sought in his art to explore this vital human impulse in all its facets.
Unlike his mentor Klimt, Schiele's attitude towards sexuality was altogether more complex. Sexuality, for Schiele was not only associated with a sense of joy, and there is a palpable sense of anxiety established through the unique contrast between the heated colour of the model's genitals and the sombre, grey tones of her face, hair and hands. Yet, the figure is rendered as an object of titillation, who clutches herself protectively from an inquisitive gaze, whilst her sensually pouting lips stand in relation to her downcast eyes, creating an expression that reads equally as rapt absorption and erotic arousal. This erotic effect is further heightened through the interplay between the girl's bare white thighs with the tops of her black stockings, which is dominated above all, by the model's red sex.