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Self-portrait with physalis
oil and opaque color on wood
32.2 × 39.8 cm
Leopold Museum, Vienna
'All beautiful and noble qualities have been united in me ... I shall be the fruit which will leave eternal vitality behind even after its decay. How great must be your joy, therefore, to have given birth to me.' (Egon Schiele)
Egon Schiele (1890 - 1918), Austrian painter and his work is noted for its intensity, was a major figurative painter of the early 20th century and was regarded by many of his contemporaries as the predestined successor to Gustav Klimt, but died before he could fulfill his promise. The twisted body shapes and the expressive line that characterize his paintings and drawings mark the artist as an early exponent of Expressionism.
This painting is in what is probably his best-known self-portrait, then he was at the age of 22-year-old. Nothing in this balanced composition is left to chance. Every line finds its continuation or a counterpart to which it corresponds. Hair and body are both cropped by the edges of the painting as if reflecting, one shoulder is pulled up with the other lowered, and the slender branches bear intensely colored red lampion fruit.
On 19 October 1918 Edith, his pregnant wife, fell ill with Spanish influenza, then sweeping Europe. On 28 October she died. Schiele, who seems never to have written her a real love-letter, and who in the midst of her illness wrote his mother a very cool letter to say that she would probably not survive, was devastated by the loss. Almost immediately he came down with the same sickness, and died on 31 October, three days after his wife.
When Egon Schiele died in 1918 at the age of only 28 years old, he was seen as being one of the most important artists of his time. During the turmoil of the following decades he was more and more buried in oblivion until he completely disappeared into thin air after being judged as "degenerate art" by Hitler's Nazi regime. When Rudolf Leopold saw works by Egon Schiele at the beginning of the 1950s he immediately recognized their quality, emotionality and technical
bravura could absolutely be compared to the Old Masters. The life of the young eye doctor changed radically. He entirely devoted himself to collecting and trading art. Many Schiele paintings and drawings were on sold on the free market at the time and even quite affordable even though they were not that cheap: a large-sized oil painting pretty much had the same price as a new car. Rudolf Leopold made significant contributions to the international esteem in which he is held today. With 44 oil paintings and around 180 graphic works, the Leopold Museum is the largest and most prominent collection with works of Egon Schiele worldwide.