Stehender weiblicher Akt (Gerti Schiele) is one of many watercolor and gouache drawings that Schiele executed of his favorite sister, Gertrude (called "Gerti"), in 1910. During this period, the artist made important strides in his personal style, and his self-portraits and studies of his sister were an integral part of this process. Specifically, Schiele made a series of five large paintings in the first months of 1910, three of himself and two of Gerti posing. The present work is similar to the first of these two canvases, as they feature her standing nude figure, head turned to the side, set against a pictorial void. The prominent yet delicate outlines of her form, the washes of color, and the contrast of her stark nudity with a gesture of tucking her head into her shoulder mark Schiele's shift away from the decorative elegance of Klimt and the Jugendstil aesthetic. Whereas a clothed portrait of Gerti from the previous year shows a serene young woman in a similar but more refined pose (fig. 1). In the present work, her gangly, attenuated limbs are anatomically convincing, yet Schiele uses them for emotional effect by emphasizing the twist in her neck and the sharp angles created by her arms. His formal integration of naturalistic depiction with expressive stylization first appears in these intimate images of his own person and his closest relative. Describing works like the present one, Jane Kallir has stated: "Gerti in fact confessed that she was embarrassed to pose nude and at first permitted her brother to draw her only from behind. The studies for the large oil stress the model's coy shyness; the finished painting is a monument to self-conscious pubescent sexuality that contrasts markedly with the aggressive bravado of the self-portraits. Gestural body language and the pictorial tension between the object and the void transform each of the large nudes into icons representing various emotional states" (in cat.rais., op. cit, p. 68).
Considering the turbulent events in Schiele's personal life, it is hardly surprising that he concentrated on his favorite sister during this time. After Schiele left the Vienna Academy in 1909, his uncle and guardian Leo Czihaczek renounced his guardianship of the young painter and stopped any financial support. Schiele was now on his own in Vienna and struggling to make ends meet; Gerti was likely a comfortingly familiar presence and an inexpensive solution to his need for a live model. Her lean and narrow-hipped sixteen year-old body also epitomized a kind of hermaphroditic, nascent sexuality which fascinated many Symbolist painters and which was generally topical in Viennese art, literature, and science at the turn of the century. Sigmund Freud's writings on psychoanalysis pervaded medicine and art alike, and his theories on juvenile sexual drives focused minds everywhere on adolescent sexuality, with a view to its suppression or its emancipation. Indeed, in the present work, Gerti's sexuality dominates her individuality; her facial features are less distinct than the details of her genitalia, which are the central focus of the image. The close cropping of the figure within the edges of the sheet further exaggerates the work's emphatic sexuality. Images of Gerti dominate the artist's earliest mature production. The painter's attention subsequently turned to his new steady girlfriend, Valerie Neuzil (known as "Wally") became his most frequent model in 1911.
(fig. 1) Egon Schiele, Portrait of Gerti Schiele, 1909. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 26015804