Schiele's nude studies were erotically charged from the outset of his career, and he quickly gained notoriety for the sexual content in his work. Indeed, in 1912 the artist spent 24 days in jail for offenses against public morality, the result of childen who posed for him (clothed) coming into contact with his sexually explicit pictures.
By 1917-1918, nearing the end of the First World War, the moral climate in Vienna had grown more relaxed as the conservative moral fabric of the Habsburg empire disintegrated in the face of war-weariness and ultimate defeat.
Nevertheless, while the time was perhaps becoming more conducive to the acceptance of the content of his earlier pictures, Schiele was moving away from his self-obsessed and subjective view of eroticism toward more traditional forms. In the last two years of his life there are numerous depictions of male-female relationships, and perhaps taking a cue from Klimt's painting Die Freundinnen, 1916-1917 (see note to lot 314) lesbian relationships as well. But more significantly perhaps, Schiele also depicts other forms of emotional intimacy, between mothers and children, between siblings, or children with other children, which show a progressive and liberating view of the body and human contact.
The context of the present drawing is slightly ambiguous, but becomes clear when viewed next to Kallir no. 2202, which employs the same pair of models. One girl is perhaps in her late teens, the other is smaller, younger, and pre-pubescent. Their embrace is characterized by a trusting and loving innocence--they may be sisters--and if called to account for it Schiele could easily deny any overtly sexual relationship. On the other hand, the present work shows the two bodies in a closer, more fervent embrace than Kallir no. 2202, and this ambiguity in their relationship may have been intended to titillate the viewer.
The new style of Schiele's late drawings facilitated their wider appeal. By 1917 the intensely nervous, idiosyncratic and volcanic line that had made Schiele's drawings so discomforting to many viewers gave way to a more supple and naturalistic approach. Schiele's late manner is completely assured and straight-forward. Each line is unerring and without neurotic hesitations or doubt. If the peculiar artifice and nervous energy of Schiele's early linear style has diminished, it is replaced by a more rythmical sense of form that is warmly sensual and more accessibly human in its depiction of the artist's themes.