GSE logo

Egon Schiele as Printmaker
A Loan Exhibition Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Galerie St. Etienne

November 03, 2009 to January 23, 2010

Although widely recognized as one of the greatest draughtsmen of the modern era, Egon Schiele is often underrated as a printmaker. Granted, he produced only seventeen prints (as compared with more than two thousand unique works on paper), but these lithographs, linocuts, woodcuts and etchings evidence the same graphic intensity seen in the better-known drawings and watercolors. Schiele’s prints not only reflect artistic concerns he was pursuing contemporaneously in other mediums, but, clustered in the years 1912, 1914, 1916 and 1918, the graphics closely track his overall development. A comprehensive reassessment of this neglected aspect of the artist’s oeuvre is thus long overdue.

Fostering a wider understanding of Schiele’s multifaceted achievements has been central to the Galerie St. Etienne’s mission since its founding in 1939, at a time when few in the United States had ever heard of the artist. It therefore seems appropriate to focus our 70th anniversary celebration on Schiele’s prints, which furthermore occupy a significant place in our history. Otto Kallir, the gallery’s founder, began his career in Vienna as a publisher of limited-edition graphics. In 1921, he published the first edition of Schiele’s Portrait of Franz Hauer in the catalogue for the “Schwarz-Weiss” (Black-and-White) exhibition at the Künstlerhaus in Salzburg. The following year, he issued the portfolio Das graphische Werk von Egon Schiele, containing editions of all the artist’s etchings (Portrait of a Man, Self-Portrait, Portrait of Franz Hauer, Squatting Woman, Sorrow, Portrait of Arthur Roessler) and his last two lithographs (Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh and Girl), none of which had been published during Schiele’s lifetime. After compiling the catalogues raisonnés of Schiele’s paintings (1930 and 1966), Kallir wrote the first proper catalogue raisonné of the prints in 1970. Kallir’s granddaughter and current St. Etienne Co-Director, Jane Kallir, updated these catalogues raisonnés in her comprehensive volume Egon Schiele: The Complete Works (1990 and 1998).

Schiele’s initial encounter with printmaking was prompted by an increased involvement with the German art scene. In October 1911, he had his first German exhibition at the Munich gallery of Hans Goltz. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to join the Munich-based artist’s association Sema and to submit a lithograph for publication in the group’s forthcoming print portfolio. Schiele chose for his subject a nude self-portrait, as though announcing his presence on the German scene, or saying, simply: “I am here; this is who I am.” Self-portraits, reflecting a post-adolescent search for identity, had figured prominently in Schiele’s oeuvre from the time of his Expressionist breakthrough in 1910. The artist probed his innermost feelings in these works, but he was also consciously play-acting, presenting himself to the public in various guises. In the studies for the Sema lithograph, he tested a number of personalities: defiant, seductive, confrontational or coy. He ended up submitting two transfer drawings to Sema: in the first, the artist appears wary but confident (Kallir G. 1), while in the second, he seems to recoil in fear (Kallir G. 2). Sema chose the first version, which was published in early 1912. Only three proof impressions, all unsigned, of the rejected self-portrait have been recorded.

Schiele’s unique combination of arrogance and vulnerability is encapsulated in the two Sema self-portraits. The subject’s nudity—brash but exposed—and the inexplicable absence of a penis further underscore this existential ambiguity. Schiele believed fervently in the sanctity of his artistic mission, but his emotional honesty left him undefended against attacks by those who did not share his vision. He thought that his status as an artist granted him immunity from the strictures imposed by society upon ordinary mortals. Yet time and again, he was undone by the demands of bourgeois life. These could be as basic as the necessity of earning money, the cause of countless squabbles between himself and his patrons. More insidiously, bourgeois morality did not condone the artistic lifestyle, as manifested by Schiele’s open cohabitation with his model Wally Neuzil and, especially, his habit of bringing underage school children into the sexually tainted atmosphere of his studio. It was the latter practice, ultimately, that landed Schiele in jail in April 1912, on charges of “public immorality.” He emerged after 24 days both chastened and furious. Two post-prison watercolor self-portraits (this time confined to the artist’s face) echo the dichotomy expressed in the Sema prints. Schiele is, respectively, defiant in the one watercolor and dejected in the other. But now he is no longer posing. The emotions have been forged in the crucible of real life.

Following his imprisonment, Schiele faced persistent financial difficulties. His paintings sold poorly in Germany, and the system of private patronage, which dominated the more backward Austrian art market, was not sufficient to support a young artist still struggling to establish a reputation. Schiele’s second stab at printmaking was prompted by his patron Arthur Roessler, who, tired of the artist’s constant requests for money, suggested etching as a way to earn additional income. Declaring that he considered drypoint—an intaglio process that uses a pointed stylus instead of acid—“the only honest and artistic etching technique,” Schiele acquiesced. Roessler bankrolled the venture by providing the necessary equipment, and an artist friend, Robert Philippi, offered to give Schiele lessons. Following an example etched by Philippi to one side of the plate, Schiele created his first etching (a Portrait of a Man (Kallir G. 3) who strikingly resembles the artist) in March or April 1914 (checklist no. 24). Two further small etchings (Self-Portrait (Kallir G. 4) and Portrait of Franz Hauer) (Kallir G. 5), drawn on the recto and verso of a single plate, followed shortly thereafter. By May, Schiele was ready for larger plates, executing in fairly rapid succession two images of female nudes, Squatting Woman (Kallir G. 6) and Sorrow (Kallir G. 7), and a portrait of Roessler (Kallir G. 8). Probably at Roessler’s request, Schiele pulled and signed at least nine (and possibly as many as 32) impressions of the portrait, but very few lifetime proofs exist of the other drypoints. And with this, the etching experiment was over. By the end of the summer, Schiele had given away his tools, remarking, “In the time needed to etch one plate, I can well and easily create fifty to sixty—no, even more, surely about one hundred—drawings.”

Despite his aversion to the etching medium, Schiele was readily able to turn it to his own ends. With his third drypoint, the Portrait of Franz Hauer, he was already in firm control of the stylus, wielding it with the same authority as a pencil. Hauer, a kindly innkeeper who was a noted patron of young painters, had met Schiele in 1912, and it is likely that the artist created the portrait in thanks for his considerable support. While there is no evidence that this was a formal commission, Schiele, as with any such project, executed a series of preliminary pencil studies. Adopting an approach that would come to typify his later portraits, Schiele focused almost exclusively on Hauer’s face, viewed from various angles and sometimes in tandem with the sitter’s hands. It is not clear whether the stitch-like perpendicular strokes with which Schiele embellished his lines in the Hauer studies intentionally anticipate the crosshatching that is used to suggest volume and shadow in etchings. For whatever reason, hatched lines are common to many of the artist’s drawings in mid 1914—the period that coincides with his etching experiences. From this evolved a more conscious awareness of the interplay between two-dimensional line and three dimensional illusion, which culminated in Schiele’s more voluptuously modeled late figure drawings.

If the Roessler etching, like the Hauer portrait, was a “thank you” gesture for a deserving patron, the two drypoint nudes were closely related to Schiele’s paintings Blind Mother (Kallir P. 272) and Young Mother (Kallir P. 273). Motherhood had, for some years, been a significant recurrent theme in Schiele’s allegories. He was inclined to see mothers as expedients whose sole purpose in life was to nurture youth (representing, for Schiele, artistic genius). Tired, spent and dead mothers proliferate in his paintings from 1910 on, but by 1914 Schiele was beginning to develop new approaches to the subject. The Blind Mother—literally and figuratively unable to see—is incapable of nurturing. The Young Mother, on the other hand, represents a more hopeful paradigm. The etching Sorrow is based on Blind Mother, whereas Squatting Woman replicates the pose of the Young Mother. Since the drypoints and the paintings were executed at more or less the same time, it is hard to assign priority to one medium over the other. Schiele might have based the prints on the paintings, paring down his thesis to its essential characters. Or he could have employed the drypoints to work out the poses for the oils. Contemporaneous drawings and watercolors document how Schiele used studio models to develop his compositions. Often viewing the model from above, he would drop out all background detail to leave her floating in blank space, and then twist her into the desired position. Thus the Squatting Woman/Young Mother, who in reality probably posed on her hands and knees, is transfigured by a far more ethereal vertical orientation. The transition from real to allegorical space strengthens the underlying metaphor in the final composition.

The etching project was partly inspired by hopes that Schiele would be able to sell the editions in Germany. In 1914, he received inquiries about prints not just from Goltz, but from the Berlin dealers J.B. Neumann and Fritz Gurlitt. Although nothing came of this, the comparatively robust German art scene remained a lure, even after World War I had drastically reduced cultural interchange. The left-wing Berlin periodical Die Aktion regularly published Schiele’s work, and in 1916 the editor, Franz Pfemfert, decided to put out a special “Egon Schiele issue.” Since woodcuts were cheaper to print than reproductions of drawings, Schiele, at Pfemfert’s request, agreed to try his hand at the new technique. Philippi was again engaged as instructor, and within a few weeks in the summer of 1916, Schiele created the two woodcuts that were reproduced in Die Aktion that September (Kallir G. 13 and 14), as well as four rubbercuts (Kallir G. 9, 10, 11 and 12), done as preliminary exercises.

The rubbercuts and woodcuts differ from Schiele’s other prints not only in technique, but in their diminutive size. The rubbercuts, in fact, are scarcely larger than a thumbnail, and one can imagine that Schiele enjoyed the tactile immediacy of carving into the small soft rubber blocks. Wood is harder to cut, but again Schiele seems to have taken instinctively to the manipulation of flat shapes and negative space intrinsic to this art form. Both these aesthetic characteristics are central to Art Nouveau graphics, which had a formative influence on Schiele’s early development, as well as on the German Expressionists who pioneered the woodcut revival. While the chunky rubber- and woodcuts may seem quite different in style to the spare elegance of Schiele’s drawings, these little prints are closely related to the artist’s sketchbook studies. Schiele carried small graph-ruled notebooks with him almost constantly, using them to jot down creative concepts as they came to him. For this purpose, he invented a kind of visual shorthand, manipulating tiny figures and objects in little boxes denoting imagined future canvases. The format is almost identical to that of the Aktion prints.

Schiele, who early on had been influenced by the Art-Nouveau genius Gustav Klimt, had a greater affinity to poster design than to conventional printmaking. The poster for his first one-man show at the Galerie Goltz combined relatively pedestrian typography with a greatly enlarged reproduction of one of the artist’s drawings. It can be assumed that Schiele had little or no input into that poster’s design, and he may well have been displeased with it. At any rate, hereafter Schiele took a far more active interest in designing his exhibition posters. The artist’s feeling for negative space, for the placement of images on the sheet—a skill that served him well in his woodcuts and is central to his drawings—is evident in his poster for an unidentified 1915 exhibition, as well as in the poster he created for his 1918 retrospective at the Vienna Secession (Kallir G. 15).

The concept for the Secession poster dates back to at least January 1917, when Schiele began planning a painting that he called, simply, The Friends (Kallir P. 323). In keeping with his predilection for religious allegory, The Friends evokes the Last Supper. Christ, his back to the viewer, occupies the chair at the foot of the table, but Schiele, seated opposite, is the dominant figure. This surprising juxtaposition reflects Schiele’s belief that artists, connecting the mundane to the spiritual, perform a priestly function. The others in the group are all artistic colleagues. In the original painting (which remained unfinished) and a related study (Kallir P. 324), the table is set with plates of food and carafes of wine. For the more secular poster, Schiele replaced the plates with books, but left the carafes in place. In this rendition, the seat at the end of the table is left vacant, possibly for Gustav Klimt, who had recently died.

The technical sophistication of the Secession poster is at least in part due to Schiele’s collaboration with Alfred Berger, a master lithographer who printed many of the Secession’s greatest posters. It was thus natural that Schiele again chose to work with Berger for his next, and final, print project. Around the time of the Secession exhibition in March 1918, the artist was invited to contribute a color lithograph to the annual portfolio of the Gesellschaft für vervielfältigende Kunst (Society for Art Reproductions). At the time, he was working on an oil painting of the artist Paris von Gütersloh, and so Schiele decided to base his lithograph (Kallir G. 16) on the portrait studies. However, the Gesellschaft rejected this print, saying that it was not properly representative of the artist’s “special originality.” The Society’s spokesperson, Arpad Weixlgärtner, instead requested a nude. Schiele’s second attempt, Girl (Kallir G. 17), likewise did not satisfy Weixlgärtner, who asked him to tone down the genitalia and complained that, whereas the assignment was to produce a multicolored lithograph, the artist, in both his submissions, had merely generated proofs in various single colors. Schiele responded by producing a colored drawing of the Girl, though no multicolored impressions of the lithograph are known to exist. In June 1918, the Gesellschaft’s board categorically rejected all the artist’s submissions, and his work on the project ceased.

Schiele’s last three prints--the Secession poster, the Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh and the Girl--were essentially transfer lithographs. In the case of the poster, the black master image was a mechanical reproduction of Schiele’s design, while the two colored stones were hand-drawn, either by Schiele himself or under his supervision. The Gütersloh and Girl were transferred to stones from the artist’s drawings. Transfer lithography, which places the technical onus on a master printer, was ideal for an artist like Schiele, who did not enjoy fussing with stones or plates. As a consummate draughtsman, he was also probably pleased by the faithful, nuanced reproductions of drawings that can be achieved by this method. Like the Gütersloh portrait, Girl is closely related to a series of contemporaneous crayon studies. After his prison experiences, Schiele had become much more cautious in his dealings with underage subjects, but in 1918 he found a model who was willing to pose nude with her own daughter. Numerous drawings exist of the “girl,” with and without her mother. By 1918, Schiele’s line had lost much of its Expressionistic edge and assumed an almost classical voluptuousness. Few of his last drawings are colored; the artist was interested in the ability of line alone to convey weight, character and volume. This approach lent itself readily to transfer lithography, and it is likely that, had he lived, Schiele would have experimented further with the technique, which was also favored by his compatriots Kokoschka and Kubin.

At the time of Schiele’s death in October 1918, the Sema self-portrait, Male Nude I, was the only one of his prints that had been published in a signed edition. The stones for Portrait of Paris von Gütersloh and Girl remained in storage at Berger’s workshop. Robert Philippi retained the plate for Schiele’s first etching, Portrait of a Man, and Arthur Roessler, having paid for the other plates, now owned them. In 1919, as artistic director of the Avalun Verlag, Roessler ordered 125 impressions pulled from each of the two lithographic stones (which were subsequently erased) and published editions of 200 each of Sorrow and Squatting Woman. Sales of the four prints proved disappointing, and in 1921, Otto Kallir’s Verlag Neuer Graphik (the art division of the Rikola Verlag) acquired the remaining impressions, plus all Schiele’s plates. In 1922, the Verlag Neuer Graphik/Rikola issued the portfolio Das graphische Werk von Egon Schiele, incorporating the impressions purchased from Avalun as well as impressions newly pulled from the plates. The total edition size of 80 was determined by the number of available impressions of the two lithographs, which could not be reprinted. Further editions of the Self-Portrait and the Portrait of Franz Hauer (numbering 65 impressions each) were published in 1966; 80 impressions of Portrait of Arthur Roessler were published in 1970; and 100 impressions of Squatting Woman in 1990. Given the instability of drypoint lines, it is unlikely that any of these four plates could yield a further edition. Schiele’s etching plates (with the exception of that for Portrait of a Man, which is lost) are today privately owned and well protected against uncontrolled use.